Maine Trails, October - November '08
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Return on investment

Whether paving Main Street or investing in improved highways, ports and rail for trade, you can’t beat transportation for a great return on the public’s investment
 
Sometimes it is difficult to keep your eye on the big picture. I will be the first to admit that I can forget to "think big",  particularly when there are potholes to fill, streets to plow or a budget report to prepare for a town council meeting. But these days, with all of the tumult in the state, national and world economies, it is obvious that we need to be thinking big.
 
Here in Maine, that means we need to be thinking about investing in our transportation infrastructure – really investing in it, not just being reduced to coordinating the series of transportation “patch jobs” that is taking the place of a serious, long-term transportation investment plan. We need to invest in reconstructing our aging bridges, rebuilding our narrow and dangerous rural highways and preparing our ports and rails for the growing freight and passenger transportation market and their potential economic returns.
 
In this issue of Maine Trails you can read about one big idea underway at MaineDOT: Northeast CanAm Connections. That study, undertaken by MaineDOT, Ontario, Quebec, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, New Hampshire, northern New York and Vermont, has given Maine the chance to look at what investments we need to make to expand the state’s role in global trade – and what kind of return on investment those efforts will bring. Using a conservative yardstick, many of the proposals in the study promise a two- to three-fold return on investment – or better.
 
What we now know is by creating marine, rail and highway corridors for trade, Mainers will reap many economic benefits throughout all sectors of our economy. We’ll create many more jobs in the transportation sector, from jobs for construction and rail workers to port and logistics personnel. We’ll also experience a major boost to those regional economies supporting this new network of transport. Just imagine a new East-West highway and its potential to spark renewal in industries and regional economies that are truly struggling right now.
 
And if we make prudent investments, our businesses will operate much more cost-effectively, because the cost of getting Maine goods and services to market will be reduced. We will see safety gains, as well.
 
Case in point is raising truck weight restrictions on the interstate. That is a relatively low-cost investment, and just about all we need is the federal authorization. I hope that our congressional delegation will continue to work toward that goal. Without that change, Maine’s freight industry is at a distinct disadvantage, because of the added shipping time and costs and increased safety risks. By raising interstate weight restrictions, Maine will be able to get large trucks off our rural highways and out of congested downtowns – a major safety gain (I know of many towns and cities in my region that will breathe a sigh of relief the day weight restrictions are lifted). We will reduce shipping times and costs. We also will save considerably on the wear-and-tear on our rural highways by encouraging heavier trucks to use roads that are much better suited for heavier traffic. That is money that can be better used to modernize our rural highway network.
 
But we also need to be thinking about bigger ticket investments – particularly in the midst of this economic downturn. There’s nothing like publicly funded highway and bridge construction to stimulate the economy. It creates a lot of jobs – 35 jobs for every $1 million we invest – and creating infrastructure jobs here in Maine should be a major focus in the months and years ahead. The beauty of investing in our infrastructure is that it primes the economic pump with good paying jobs that bring money into citizens’ homes in my town of Skowhegan and cities and towns throughout the state. It also sustains economic activity in the long run by giving us efficient highways, rail and ports that will continue to benefit our economy, safety and quality of life for decades to come.
 
Now, that is what I call a good return on the public’s investment.
 
In closing, I hope to see all of you at the events we have planned in December: the 58th Maine Transportation Conference in Augusta and the annual MBTA Holiday Meeting in Bangor. The theme of the conference is “The Road to Authorization,” and we have an outstanding roster of speakers that will be looking looking ahead to 2009 as the U.S. Congress tackles the issues of the Highway Trust Fund and the enormous infrastructure needs our state and country faces.

 

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