Conversations with the Committee
The fifth and final in a series of Maine Trails interviews with members of the Maine Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Transportation. In this issue we interview Representative Douglas A. Thomas about transportation in Maine, the funding challenges on the state level and his vision for the future of our transportation system.
By Maria Fuentes
Representative Douglas A. Thomas (R-Ripley)
Doug Thomas of Ripley is serving his second term in the Maine House. He represents District 24 which includes the towns of Athens, Charleston, Dexter, Garland, Harmony and Ripley. Rep. Thomas owns and operates a retail firewood business, and is active in his local community. He has served on the Ripley Board of Selectmen, the S.A.D. No. 46 School Board, the Somerset County Budget Committee and the Regional Transportation Advisory Committee for region 4. He is a graduate of Mount View High School and attended Unity College, and has two children and two grandchildren.
How long have you served on the Transportation Committee?
This is my second term, so it’s my fourth year.
Do you serve on other committees?
I serve on the Labor Committee.
Why did you want this committee assignment?
I wanted transportation because of my experience and my background. It is critical to the economy. My main reason for running for the legislature was to improve the economy. As a state, our wages should be at least as good as the national average. Maine is a great place to live and there is no reason we shouldn’t be at the national average. We can’t get there without good roads.
What is the one thing that you would like to see changed/enacted/achieved regarding Maine’s transportation system during your term?
We need to improve our roads. We need to work on every impediment there is to making our roads better. We should 1) reduce costs, 2) innovate, and 3) elevate roads and bridges as a priority for state government. Roads and bridges are not the priority they should be. But at the same time, we have to find every possible way to be more efficient and to become better at improving them. We should follow my mother’s advice, which was to “stretch every dollar as far as we can.”
What will be the biggest challenge to achieving that?
The biggest challenge is getting other elected officials to realize how important our system is and to recognize how badly we have neglected our transportation system.
How would you describe the state of transportation in Maine today?
In a word, inadequate.
If you had the ability to change one aspect of Maine’s transportation system with the wave of a wand, what would it be?
Transportation would be one of the top three priorities of state government.
Did you support LD 1790? If yes, what do you think are the best prospects or strategies for getting the bill funded? If no, why not?
I didn’t support 1790 because I believe it is in conflict with the state constitution. I believe it allows the state to borrow money without a public vote and I am against that. We are shifting our bills to our grandkids and that’s just not right. There are times to borrow and times not to. The Penobscot Narrows Bridge was an emergency, and we needed it. That was different. People want better roads, there is no question about that, or they wouldn’t support the bond issues. But the people should be the ones to decide.
Earlier this year, an OPEGA study was released that suggested the Highway Fund should pay between 17 and 34 percent of the State Police budget versus the 60 percent it is currently paying. Do you support having the General Fund pay a higher percentage of the State Police budget?
Yes, I do. If it were up to me, the General Fund would pay 83 percent of the State Police budget.
How many vehicles with wheels do you and your family own (including automobiles, trucks, bikes, ATVs, snowmobiles, RVs, etc.)?
I have two cars, two pick ups, four delivery trucks for firewood, one gravel truck and various log loaders and other equipment.
How do you get to Boston?
In your daily travels, what is the worst road you travel on? What’s the best?
Route 7 from Dexter to Dover is the worst road. It’s horrible. Also, Guilford to Greenville – that road is a goat trail. And that’s a major artery. It’s disgraceful. The best road is the interstate.
Do you have a favorite scenic route?
Route 201 from Bingham to Jackman.
Do you have a vision of what transportation in Maine will look like in 20 years?
My vision would include a good east-west route as well as good north-south transportation. I would hope at that time we would allow 100,000-pound trucks on the interstate. That would be good for the economy, and that is where the heavy trucks belong.
What we need to find is a better way to utilize the creativity, innovation and efficiency of the private sector more effectively. We can learn a lot from observing the private sector and MaineDOT should, too – how they are held accountable, how they pay their bills, how they deliver projects in a way that is better for taxpayers. As a state, we should use the private sector more.