Maine Trails, October - November '08
Inside Cover
President's Message
Cover Story
Maine News
Association News
Member News

 

President’s Message
Return on investment. Investment in public infrastructure is a great economic stimulus.
By Gregory A. Dore
 
Cover Story
Redrawing the map. A new plan puts Maine at the center of the Northeast CanAm region.
By Doug Rooks
 
Maine News
Trimming their sails. Maine’s ferry operators cope with rising costs, declining passengers.
By Kathryn Buxton
 
Association News
MBTA, ASCE host U.S. Rep. Michaud. He wants to hear from “trenches.”
By Maria Fuentes
 
Member News
Strength in numbers. PACTS weighs needs against shrinking federal dollars.
By Kathryn Buxton

 


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.

 


Redrawing the map

By putting Maine at the center of the northeast region – and making prudent investments in our infrastructure – an important new study says the state can change how the region and world perceive it. 
By Douglas Rooks
 
Mainers are used to seeing themselves at the end of the road – far from the big East Coast markets that provide much of the nation’s economic activity. That far-away-from perception often includes Boston, the hub of the New England economy. Canadians look at the situation differently. Canadians see Maine as a large blank spot, and the international border as an obstacle to go around to get to the rest of their country rather than a place to be engaged, for mutual benefit, says Glen Weisbrod of at the Economic Development Research Group in Boston.
 
Changing perceptions on both sides of the border is the task of an ambitious new plan, “Northeast CanAm Connections: Integrating the Economy and Transportation.” Looked at in the broadest terms, with more populated areas both to the east and to the west, Maine is a “hollow center” in the region’s development, the plan argues. Filling that void would create benefits for Maine – and for all the states and provinces surrounding it.
 
Big rollout
Weisbrod is one of the consultants that prepared the “Northeast CanAm Connections” plan. The study was initiated by MaineDOT and has been in preparation for more than two years.
 
The plan’s executive summary was rolled out at the late summer meeting of the New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers in Bar Harbor. It made a highly favorable impression, according to Greg Nadeau, deputy commissioner of MaineDOT. The premise behind the CanAm plan is that much of the Northeast CanAm region – Maine, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, northern New York, New Hampshire, Vermont, Québec, and Ontario – has under-performed economically over the last several decades, and that improving its performance means providing transportation connections in all modes, but especially highway and rail, that can re-ignite economic development throughout the region.
 
“By focusing on our strategic position in the global economy, we hope to get people to take a new look,” said Nadeau. “Canada needs projects like this at least as much or more than Maine does,” says Fred Michaud, a senior planner at MaineDOT. Direct routes are important in all forms of transportation, and bypassing the Maine corridor is one of the reasons why the Maritimes seem remote from such booming parts of Canada as the greater Toronto area, he said. “It also reinforces the perception that we are at the end of a cul-de-sac rather than being central to a large region of North America.” Maine also can become much more than a throughway for goods made and being sold elsewhere, he added. “If you’re just a transit point, that doesn’t get you anywhere,” Weisbrod said.
 
But creating connecting points is a different, and more sustainable, concept. Intermodal centers and other transfer points create hubs, and provide opportunities. Maine has several promising sites, from land-level, double-stack freight rail at the Mack Point marine terminal at Searsport to railroad intermodal connections at Lewiston, and potentially in Waterville and other north-central junctions.
 
Each point at which freight shipments commence has the potential for significant growth by in-state shippers and allied industries. Fred Michaud points out that freight is a highly competitive industry, and reducing costs through better access points and transfers and, ultimately, more direct routes, can quickly change decisions about how to move goods and connect services.
 
‘Seamless’ potential
The CanAm plan executive summary emphasizes the idea of “seamless movement” as a critical point in better realizing the Northeast region’s economic potential. The concept is illustrated both in seemingly small changes and much larger ones.
 
The often vexing question of truck weights in Maine is one important example. Many states have exemptions to federal interstate highway weight limits, and can move 100,000-pound cargoes on all routes. Canada also has fairly uniform 100,000-pound rules, and some provinces permit even heavier payloads. Maine, however, can only run 80,000-pound loads on all interstate miles north of the junction of I-95 and Route 3 in Augusta. Heavier trucks routinely ply downtown areas in Bangor, Brewer, Waterville, and other northern service centers, causing delays and prompting safety concerns. To date, the Maine congressional delegation hasn’t had much luck in overcoming resistance to what the plan calls “harmonizing” truck weight regulations. But a region-wide focus on the costs of continuing such conflicting rules could cause policymakers to look at the question anew. The plan lists realigning truck weights and other conflicting rules as “low cost, high value” investments.
 
Nadeau said the truck weight question can be approached from a new angle in part because “the technology has changed.” New configurations of trailers and cargoes make it possible to move heavier loads more safely and with less damage to roads, he said. The Baldacci administration is working with New Brunswick officials on a pilot project that can demonstrate these points in a way that could ultimately persuade national governments on both sides of the international border.
 
Road, rail connections
New road and rail connections also form part of the “seamless movement” equation. One example of a much-anticipated change is the new international border station at Calais, part of a joint U.S.-Canadian project to replace the old downtown crossing to St. Stephen. High-tech capabilities offer the opportunity to reduce or even eliminate waits due to customs inspections.
 
Some part of the “seamless” concept will involve major new construction. The plan includes a northern route for an east-west highway through Maine as a medium-range objective, and a more southerly route as a long-range possibility. The northern highway would be aimed at connections from Canada through New Hampshire and Vermont and on to Montréal and Toronto. The southern route would provide service from New York through the Midwest, avoiding the East Coast bottlenecks that have only been growing in size and intensity.
 
Again, the chance for success in convincing public and private sector decision-makers to take on such a huge new infrastructure investment – at least $1 billion just for the Maine section – will improve if such projects can be seen as regional priorities, with the region defined as embracing both the United States and Canada.
 
“We don’t have the resources to build it ourselves,” said Greg Nadeau. “But Maine can be the linchpin between the Maritime provinces, a resource-rich, but not market rich area,” and the rest of the Northeast from Boston to Toronto, where the markets are.
 
The plan is careful to weigh costs and benefits to show which investments will be most productive. It reports that “the highest benefit-cost ratios are achieved by the harmonization [of regulations] and northern-highway scenarios, which are also the lowest-cost scenarios.” The cost of land and absence of conflicts with other uses are the main reason why the northern highway route has a greater cost-benefit ratio than the southern route.
 
Weisbrod said he considers it a plus that both private and public dollars are being considered along the east-west corridor through Maine.
 
A proposal put forward by Cianbro Chairman Peter Vigue for a toll road built by private investors is the first such plan for Maine, but is not unique from a larger perspective, he said. Spanish and Australian companies have built such roads elsewhere, and new toll roads in several U.S. states have been advancing recently.
 
Looking at other projects regionally can yield a different estimate of their cost and effectiveness. Proposals for a cargo port on Sears Island have been debated for more than 30 years, but the focus has been largely on the immediate costs and benefits to Maine itself. But with few East Coast ports adequate to handle container freight – and New York/Newark at or near capacity – such projects need to be considered against expanded facilities at Saint John, New Brunswick, and a new port at the Strait of Canso in Nova Scotia, Weisbrod said.
 
‘Fully engaged’
The executive summary is highly specific in enumerating the particular benefits for each state and province in improving connections through Maine. For all starting points, implementing improvements would “reduce vulnerability to future bottlenecks,” “expand total volume of overseas trade,” and “expand bi-national (U.S.-Canadian) trade and tourism.”
 
The last point is one often missed in transportation surveys. Weisbrod said that streamlining highway and rail connections is assumed to be important to freight shippers, but that the same conditions influence where tourists end up spending their dollars. Although Maine has seen tourism grow to become its top economic sector, it may be missing much broader opportunities to promote visitation to parts of the state now often bypassed.
 
Fred Michaud said that the meetings that launched the CanAm plan began in June 2006 in Boston, with a strong turnout not only of regional transportation officials, but by members of the economic development community as well. “We recognized early on that this was not strictly a transportation study, but rather an economic study of the region to understand the extent to which transportation infrastructure or lack thereof affects our overall economic vitality.”  MaineDOT became the host agency for many of the sessions and between-meeting consultations. Only by connecting traditional transportation interests to the larger economy, he said, does Maine seem likely to engage policymakers at high enough levels to change perceptions and results, he said.
 
Nadeau said it’s taken longer than originally expected for the full-length plan to be released, but that it’s better to wait until the conditions, as the plan puts it, for “integrating the economy and transportation” can be met.
 
“We need the economic development people fully engaged. We need not only their input, but their support as we try to move forward,” he said. “This isn’t a plan that’s designed to go up on somebody’s shelf. It’s meant to be used and acted on for years and even decades to come.”

 


Trimming their sails

Maine’s ferry operators cope with high diesel costs and a drop in passengers
By Kathryn Buxton
 
Ween you burn a half million gallons of fuel a year, a 25-cent drop in diesel fuel costs means a lot. That is one reason Maine State Ferry Service Manager Jim MacLeod is breathing a sigh of relief this fall. With falling diesel fuel prices in October, the service will have at least a brief respite from the high prices of the summer that played havoc with his operating budget.
 
Still MacLeod and other ferry operators in the state say the unpredictability of the fuel prices makes planning difficult. That’s why the state-operated ferry service, that runs seven vessels out of Rockland, Lincolnville and Bass Harbor to six downeast islands, is “thinking outside of the box,” hoping to come up with new revenue sources and new ways to reduce its operating costs.
 
“We’ve had four rate hikes in five years,” said MacLeod who said he worries about the effect rising transportation prices have on the islands’ year round residents.
 
MacLeod’s concerns are echoed by Casco Bay Island Transit District (CBITD) General Manager Catherine Debo. The quasi-public, non-profit organization operates a five-vessel fleet serving six Casco Bay Islands. On May 1, the service enacted a 50-cent fuel surcharge for passengers. Debo said that has generated enough revenue to cover rising fuel costs this past summer, but that the high cost of fuel had another devastating impact on the ferry’s annual budget:
a decline in summer passengers.
 
 “The down economy has made a big difference in terms of ridership, and that’s something that has been felt up and down Commercial Street,” said Debo speaking of the street in Portland where summer tourists frequently shop before boarding the ferry for the islands. Debo said the ferry service’s traditional tourist business was down by two percent – or 19,600 passengers – to date.
 
“That represents $85,000,” said Debo, an amount significant enough to potentially throw off the non-profit’s end-of-year balance sheet.
 
The high speed CAT ferry that carries passengers from Bar Harbor and Portland to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, also has been feeling the pinch of increasing costs and fewer passengers. The ferry announced in August that it was cutting its fall schedule short by two weeks, due to high fuel costs and lower than expected passenger numbers. The service began offering service from Portland in 2007, and this summer operated from the city’s new Ocean Gateway terminal.
 
‘Responsible’ decisions
“It was a decision we didn’t take lightly,” said Bay Ferries Limited Vice President of Operations Donald Cormier who characterized the move to trim the 2008 schedule as “responsible.” Cormier spoke of other steps Bay Ferries had taken to help offset rising costs and falling revenues, including implementing a fuel surcharge and slowing ferry speeds slightly to help reduce fuel consumption.
 
Reducing costs has been a focus at both MSFS and CBITD, as well. Debo’s operations committee had considered a major cost-cutting plan that would have consolidated trips, changed departure times for some of the routes and eliminated one service’s late night runs. Ultimately they decided against the schedule changes. Debo said that certain items are still on the table. The biggest change the ferry’s management and board may look at is possibly raising freight and vehicle charges, because those were not included in the surcharges enacted earlier this year. Debo said they are looking at smaller cost savings, too, including eliminating free water for patrons.
 
At MSFS, MacLeod is in the midst of developing a five-year plan – and looking 10 years out – at changes that could help keep the service a viable option for island residents as well as summer visitors.
 
To that end, the ferry service is considering energy saving options such as outfitting ferries with mechanical sails or investing in hybrid solar ferries. It may also incorporate passenger ferries into the schedule, because the vehicle ferries require so much fuel.
 
 “We have to think outside the box and leave no stone unturned,” said MacLeod, because “if we don’t, we put the sustainability of the islands in jeopardy.”

 


ASCE, MBTA host Congressman Michaud in Portland

By Maria Fuentes
 
Maine congressman Michael Michaud joined members of the Maine Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers and MBTA as featured speaker at a breakfast meeting October 17 at the Wyndham Hotel in South Portland. Michaud discussed “Congress and the Infrastructure.”
 
Michaud has served in Congress since 2003, and earned a coveted seat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure (T & I) Committee as a freshman. He recounted how he got on the committee. Knowing it was competitive, the new congressman called upon everybody he knew who had a relationship with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, including former U.S. Senator George Mitchell. With 75 members, the T & I committee is the largest in the House of Representatives, and his position has been “bumped up 20” slots since he got on, meaning he has more seniority.
 
Providing a primer to the group on how to get more engaged in the federal process with the goal of bringing more infrastructure projects to Maine, he said first and foremost, associations should get involved at the staff level and at the member level. “If you are already involved, keep it up. If not, then start getting involved … it is critical that individuals and businesses participate in the process.” He urged attendees to provide ideas to him and to his staff on how to increase funding for projects, or how to deliver them more efficiently. “I want to hear from people in the trenches. We don’t always know what works best at your level, and you need to help us come up with ideas.”
 
Addressing a question on congressional earmarks, Michaud said that despite some backlash on earmarks, there still will be high priority projects in the next transportation reauthorization bill, although perhaps not as many as before. “What happened last time is that the earmarks should have been ‘over the line’, or over and above the funding formula…in the House bill, earmarks were slated to be in addition to the regular funding, but that changed once it went to a committee of conference. I don’t believe that will happen this time.”
 
Although acutely aware that Maine needs more funding, he noted that in the last reauthorization, Maine received 30 percent more in funding than in the prior authorization bill.
 
Michaud said infrastructure should compete favorably with other federal priorities, noting that due to the economic climate, he believes infrastructure will “rate very high” in the next Congress. The briefing was held before the November 4 elections, and he touched on the impact Senator Obama would have if elected president, noting that during the campaign he had said he wanted a robust infrastructure package. “One billion in transportation infrastructure investment generates 47,000 jobs, and jobs are what Maine people need right now.”
 
“We should also look outside the Highway Trust Fund for investments,” he said. He reminded attendees that when he was in the Maine Senate and chaired the Appropriations Committee, he voted to take money from the General Fund to put into transportation projects. “Transportation investment benefits the General Fund, and I will do all I can to move General Fund dollars into transportation. I feel the same way on the federal level as I did on the state level.”
 
Regarding truck weights, as a means of saving money for infrastructure, Mike assured the crowd that he takes “every available opportunity to discuss the need to harmonize our truck weights and increase the allowable weight to 100,000 pounds on Maine’s interstate.” He joked that he is known for being stubborn, but he sees it as being persistent. “I keep pushing until I get it done, and truck weights will be no different.”
 
Michaud closed by acknowledging “we are living in very tough times” but said he remains optimistic. “Congress needs the expertise that people in this room and in your industries can bring. The more we hear from you, the better off we will be.”


Strength in numbers

Portland area MPO develops new approaches to weigh growing needs against shrinking federal dollars
 
by Kathryn Buxton
 
Fourteen million dollars doesn’t buy what it used to. Just ask any member of PACTS, the metropolitan planning organization (MPO) responsible for setting transportation priorities for the Portland area. It is a reality the 15 PACTS communities have had to come to terms with as they have worked together to make funding decisions for the upcoming biennium.
 
“That’s not nearly enough money to do anything we need to do, and that can be very frustrating,” said Bill Shane, Cumberland town manager and chair of the PACTS Policy Committee. Shane and his fellow committee members are fresh from the process of planning for the coming biennium, discussing where and what to spend on the region’s 204 miles of collectors, 117 miles of arterials and 80 miles of interstate highways, roads that are eligible for state and federal funding.
 
Now, with so much to accomplish and such limited funding, PACTS is increasingly looking at new funding strategies to support the region’s transportation network. PACTS Director John Duncan agrees that how to spend the $14 million – and how to secure more funding – has become an ever-greater preoccupation of the organization, absorbing more of PACTS’ resources and, in many ways, eclipsing the traditional programming role that PACTS has had since it was founded in the mid-1970s.
 
“Since SAFETEA LU, it’s been all about the money,” said Duncan. These days he, his staff of two and the more than 60 plus individuals participating in the PACTS planning process spend a good deal of their time discussing how to identify and secure a bigger share of the dwindling pot of public dollars spent in Maine on highways, bridges and transit.
 
The quest has led the organization and its members down several new paths: a highly publicized community discussion of regional transportation priorities; a groundbreaking effort to catalogue the condition of the region’s collector roads; and an in-depth study on how to exploit untapped funding opportunities available to the MPO and its members. Now, the group is adding a new task to the list – the launch of its periodic long-range planning process titled “Destination Tomorrow.”
 
The shift to broaden the PACTS communities’ efforts to attract more funding comes at a critical time in the world of transportation planning. The federal reauthorization process will shift into high gear in the new year and an historic downturn in consumer driving this year has put downward budget pressures on already meager federal Highway Trust Fund revenues.
 
Matter of priorities
Rick Michaud, the Saco city administrator, has led the most visible effort to lasso more funding for PACTS, the High Priority Projects Committee. The committee joins PACTS’ longstanding policy, planning, technical and transit committees and grew out of the efforts of Michaud, who two years ago took a long, critical look at what was ahead for PACTS and saw some unexploited opportunities.
 
Michaud remembers having an epiphany at that time. He saw all of the organization’s resources – both staff and members – focused almost entirely on programming the approximately $10 million in federal matching funds regularly doled out to the region every two years. At the same time, he saw a bigger pot of money that MaineDOT had for high priority projects – big ticket transportation earmarks – that typically brings in $30 million to $50 million during a reauthorization period. And then he talked to Duncan.
 
“Rick said, ‘You know, we ought to get into the high priority projects business.’ The thought was that we might strike it rich,’” recalled Duncan.
 
Michaud expanded on that thought. He said it isn’t so much about striking it rich, but “more about having a greater portion of Maine’s funding being allocated to the PACTS region” where a greater portion of Maine’s population is centered. He said that with a unified effort, PACTS communities would increase the probability of funding.
 
The work to identify the right combination of high priority projects to attract earmarked funds began in earnest in 2006. PACTS, being a committee of committees, formed a new committee — the High Priority Projects Committee – to identify a short list of projects that might qualify for funding. The group developed a list of nine projects. Through a series of community meetings, input from PACTS’ partners and a region-wide survey, the nine projects were narrowed to three:
 
  • Rehabilitate the Veteran’s Memorial Bridge, seeking additional funds, if needed, to expedite reconstruction of the bridge. Estimated price tag of $56 million;
  • Invest in region’s transit fleet, purchasing 61 vehicles including buses, paratransit vehicles and a passenger ferry. Estimated price tag: $22.5 million;
  • Capital investments for “Portland North” commuter service to Brunswick, estimated price tag: $70 million.
 
On October 16, the PACTS Policy Committee adopted the recommendations of the High Priority Committee, clearing the way for PACTS members to begin actively seeking funds for these projects.
 
Also on the PACTS agenda this year is “Leveraging Increased Funding Through Transportation Investment Partnerships,” a 35-page report by Maine Tomorrow and Planning Decisions. The report outlines a long list of possible funding sources, currently available to MaineDOT, PACTS communities and other Maine municipalities. These include property and vehicle excise tax revenue growth set asides and federal and state loan programs to ensure municipal capital improvement districts and to pursue municipal-private partnerships.
 
By the numbers
Still, even as more of the organization’s efforts focus on securing dollars for maintaining and enhancing the region’s transportation, everything is filtered through PACTS, which retains its core role as a planning organization.
 
“We’re still a technical analysis group,” Duncan underscores, and the group has nearly a dozen studies either underway or recently completed. One of those, the Regional Collector Road Assessment Study by Gorrill-Palmer Consulting Engineers was presented at the Policy Committee meeting in October. The study is the region’s first attempt to catalogue the condition of the region’s collector roads.
 
Michaud has hopes the study will become a blueprint of sorts for the entire state and a way for cities and towns to measure progress in the upkeep of the collector system of roads. He believes this network of roads is the lifeblood of Maine’s communities and too often is left behind in times when transportation dollars are limited.
 
“One of my crusades at PACTS is to be constantly asking ourselves, ‘Are we keeping up?,’” said Michaud. “Now we will have the tools to tell that if we only spend so much, will the roads improve or will they get worse?”
 
Shane agrees that the ability of PACTS members to develop quantitative tools and a clear process to evaluate and prioritize transportation spending makes a difficult job easier.
 
“It’s our job to take limited funding and stretch it – that’s the biggest challenge a town manager faces,” said Shane. For towns like Cumberland, it can be frustrating to see priorities set in towns like South Portland, Portland, Biddeford and Saco on roads with high traffic volumes, when state highways like Route 88 that runs through Cumberland grow rougher every year and with town residents growing increasingly unsatisfied with their roads.
 
“We have a 200-mile network and the piece of pie for taking care of that is pretty small,” said Shane. Still he says that “99 out of 100 decisions I can go back to my town and support because they are truly good for the region, and that speaks volumes about the people and the process.”
 
Tomorrow’s destination
The difficult work of PACTS’ cities and towns, Duncan warns, is only going to get harder, and that is something the group will have to take into account, as it begins the process for its “Destination Tomorrow” long-range plan. Duncan expects that, as in the case of the last long-range plan, land use policy will play a big role, helping the region’s communities establish sustainable growth policies that will go in hand with transportation planning.
 
As an example, he cites the high priority project survey recently completed for PACTS by the Pan Atlantic SMS Group and a series of questions about what consumers plan on doing if and when gas prices climb to $5 or $10 per gallon. Two-thirds of the survey participants reported that they already had altered their driving habits because of increasing gas prices. While the survey found that driving alone was still the mode of choice for most area residents (82 percent), as fuel prices approached $5 or $10, nearly 40 percent would change their driving habits by driving less, using public transit or making “work-related changes.”
 
And that will have major impacts on regional transportation funding – reducing fuel tax revenues and creating more funding demands to build a transit system that will accommodate all of those new riders, according to Duncan.
 
Michaud concurs, adding that PACTS’ current discussions about high priority funding and the role of transit foreshadow that shift. “That’s the future, and we need to be ready when it happens,” said Michaud.

 

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