by Gregory A. Dore, MBTA President
MBTA is a powerful voice for Maine cities and towns.
As Maine municipalities struggle with rising costs and tight budgets, it’s good to have a strong advocate on our side.
As the head of a public works agency in a town in central Maine, I know just how important transportation is to the people I serve. If there’s a pothole on Water Street, or if the snowplows don’t get out fast enough during the first winter storm, I hear about it.
Skowhegan isn’t an especially large town (pop. 8,824). I wouldn’t say we’re a rich town, either (the median income is just over $28,000). So, like a lot of other cities and towns in Maine, we have to be creative about how we go about getting our bridges fixed, and our streets paved and plowed every year.
I count myself lucky to have good tools in my public works toolbox to get the job done. One is a good staff that is called to work through all kinds of weather – from the mountains of snow and ice we faced this past winter to this summer’s torrential rains. My crews are professional public servants who take their duties and responsibilities seriously. They never hesitate to answer when they get that call during an emergency, no matter what time of day or night.
Another valuable ally is my town administration, with whom I work closely to set priorities and to budget for highway and road maintenance repairs. I am fortunate to work with volunteer, elected and paid officials who understand how critical transportation infrastructure is to Skowhegan’s present and future. They know the role it plays in attracting and retaining businesses, and how it also contributes to the wonderful quality of life we enjoy here on the banks of the Kennebec River.
The Skowhegan Highway Department, in fact, has a mission statement that reflects the town’s commitment to improving “the quality of life by providing essential services to insure maintenance, improvement and protection of the town’s infrastructure and natural resources.” It is a statement that reflects my beliefs as well, and one which is at the heart of what public works is all about.
As we all know, these days there are a lot of pressures facing the cities and towns of Maine as they struggle to fulfill promises to their residents to maintain and improve local roads, bridges and highways (and in some cases transit systems). Even in the best of times those promises are subject to budgetary constraints, which is the aim of all good government. But this year is something different. Prices, as you well know, on practically everything have gone up. This year, Maine towns and cities are finding it harder to make due with skimpy road funding and higher costs. In Skowhegan, we have been hit this year by what I call the “triple whammy:” high road salt prices during a season of unusually high snowfall; a bad pothole season with lots of moisture damaging the roads during the late winter and early spring; and rapidly rising asphalt prices that came just as we were at the peak of our summer road maintenance season. Between January and August, liquid asphalt prices rose from $307.50 a ton to $765 per ton – more than doubling.
The picture grew even darker for many of my fellow public works directors, when MaineDOT announced it was suspending $13.6 million in paving projects in 21 Maine towns and cities because of high asphalt prices. That represents more than 85 miles of Maine highways that were badly in need of resurfacing, and even though Skowhegan was not among the towns affected this year, I know how frustrated they must feel. Skowhegan is like any other town that was not on the list: our “hit” will come next year as projects in the next budget will surely be pushed off to a later date in order to make room for the work dropped this summer.
I, like many others, fear that things are only going to get worse in the times ahead. That is why I am glad that we have a third tool in the box – the MBTA. As a non-partisan organization that advocates for a safer, more efficient transportation system in Maine, the MBTA brings knowledge and expertise to the table that can really make the case for investment in our transportation infrastructure. It also serves as a unified voice that represents Maine’s municipalities, businesses, safety advocates and private citizens.
It’s easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day matters that we all face and forget to keep our eyes on the bigger picture. Maine cities and towns need to be on the front line of that bigger picture fight in the months and years ahead as our state legislators and congressional representatives work toward funding solutions. And MBTA is here to help keep us informed and provide us with a powerful and unified voice.