The topic is transportation
MBTA Executive Director Maria Fuentes interviews Senator Walter R. Gooley (R-Farmington) and Representative Michael E. Carey (D-Lewiston), two new members of the Maine Legislature’s Joint Committee on Transportation.
Do you think Maine will see real benefits from the federal stimulus package? Why?
Senator Gooley: Yes, in the short term especially. I am very disappointed that there is so much more money going to Medicaid than there is to infrastructure, when this was supposed to be a jobs bill.
Representative Carey: Absolutely. Maine has a significant funding problem for our transportation infrastructure; MaineDOT estimates that Maine is $2.4 - $3 billion short of the funding it needs to simply maintain our infrastructure at current standards. The $130 million for Maine roads and bridges in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds will fund important work, but it is 4.3 percent of the $3 billion needed for 10 years.
What about Maine’s transportation infrastructure has hurt the state’s economy? What has helped the economy?
Sen. Gooley: The deterioration of our highway system has clearly hurt our economy. Posting our collector roads is also hurting the economy as it becomes problematic for loggers and other haulers to move their products. In terms of helping the economy, we aren’t doing much to help it now by letting our roads go. Unemployment is 11 percent in Franklin County, and it is higher in some individual towns. Our paper mills are hurting. We need to fix our roads, improve our rail system and help get people back to work.
Rep. Carey: Maine is a large and rural state. Our comprehensive infrastructure is a huge help to the Maine economy and enables economic development. Our problem is two-fold: our system is old and expensive, and its quality is rapidly disintegrating. Maine’s $3 billion funding hole raises significant questions about Maine’s future economic development ability.
What is the most critical transportation need facing the state? What about facing the people in your district?
Sen. Gooley: The most critical transportation need for both the state and my constituents is fixing our highways, our arterials and our collector roads, as well as our bridges. We need to do maintenance paving – no question – but we also need to fix the base of our roads because the drainage is bad and when we don’t have the money to rebuild those roads, it is costing the taxpayers more.
Rep. Carey: Maine needs to determine its transportation strategy for the next 100 years, and then we need to make the difficult choices to fund that strategy. The biggest needs in Lewiston are easy access to I-95 and public transit being available at times that citizens need it.
The CanAm Connections study discusses transportation infrastructure in the northeast border corridor and its effects on economic development opportunities. What steps do you think Maine should take to remove the barriers to global trade opportunities?
Sen. Gooley: We need to improve our ports; that’s why I voted for the Sears Island agreement that tells MaineDOT to move ahead with a container port. We also need to improve Eastport and Portland and do a better job moving freight. Improved rail is key to our natural resource based industries. I am a member of the legislative rail caucus, and am a strong believer in rail.
Rep. Carey: The CanAm study suggested the economic benefits Maine can reap if we see Maine in the middle of New England and the Eastern Canadian Provinces rather than at the “end of the road” in New England. We should explore greater transportation and energy integration with Canada’s eastern provinces, if it is clear that Maine benefits.
The Highway Fund structural gap is significantly bigger than that of the General Fund, in terms of percentage. Do you support increasing revenues to go into the state’s Highway Fund?
Sen. Gooley: I wish there were a way to take care of the problem without raising revenues, but I don’t know what that would be. The rub is how to do that.
Rep. Carey: Maine must determine its long-term transportation strategy and what that will cost. We then must explain that strategy to Mainers and system users. If Mainers want to maintain the current infrastructure, we need to find new revenue.
Which airport do you most frequently fly out of? How many times a year do you fly?
Sen. Gooley: I probably fly maybe two times per year, and I tend to fly out of Portland. However, we need to make more targeted investments, not just for our two major airports, but also to some of the more rural ones.
Rep. Carey: I fly out of Portland, Manchester and Boston, depending on where I find the best fare. I fly between six and 20 times per year.
Have you ever taken a ferry in Maine? Which ones? How frequently?
Sen. Gooley: Yes, I used to use the ferry system when I worked for the state as a forester going to North Haven, Vinalhaven, Monhegan and Isleboro.
Rep. Carey: I occasionally take a ferry on recreational trips.
How many miles a year do you drive? Where are the majority of those miles driven?
Sen. Gooley: I drive about 20,000 miles, mostly between Farmington and Augusta.
Rep. Carey: I drive 25,000 to 35,000 miles per year across Maine and outside the state.
What is the most common constituent complaint you hear about transportation?
Sen. Gooley: Roads, roads and roads, especially in the spring. In western Maine we have some of the worst roads in the state. But I am not just referring to the condition of the roads. I also hear from concerned citizens about the drivers themselves. Highway safety is a big issue. I hear from people about distracted drivers, tailgating and other behavior that is unsafe. This behavior leads to accidents. The condition of the roads, and the drivers themselves can lead to accidents.
Rep. Carey: The state of our roads and bridges.
How have your transportation habits / commuting habits changed in the last year?
Sen. Gooley: They haven’t changed.
Rep. Carey: If I am traveling in Lewiston, I am now more likely to walk, hitch a ride or ride my bike.
What is the worst and best road you frequently travel on?
Sen. Gooley: The worst road is Route 196 between Auburn and Freeport – that is an example of a bumpy road filled with potholes and frost heaves. Also, both Route 27 and Route 4 can get dangerous because there is no breakdown lane; and we need more money in highway reconstruction. These roads are tough to navigate sometimes after snowstorms. Our local and state crews do a great job cleaning up after a storm. But people also tend to drive too fast for the conditions, and that is a safety problem. The more we can educate drivers about safety, the better off we will be.
The best road is the dirt road I live on: Cowan Hill Road.
Rep. Carey: The worst roads are between Lewiston-Auburn and the Oxford Hills.
The best road is the Maine Turnpike.