Maine Trails, April - May '09
Inside Cover
President's Message
Cover Story
The topic is transportation
A tale of two bypasses
Trains, buses, automobiles and jobs
The Austrians are coming
Harry's Girl

 

Maine Trails Magazine April - May 09President’s Message
There’s more to do. We need billions of dollars to fix our roads and bridges.
By Gregory A. Dore
 
Cover Story
Why the stimulus won’t be enough for Maine. Maine has big transportation needs the stimulus won’t fill.
By Douglas Rooks
 
Maine News
The topic is transportation. New Transportation Committee members Senator Walter Gooley and Representative Michael Carey talk about jobs and long-term solutions to Maine’s transportation funding challenge.
By Maria Fuentes
 
Tale of two bypasses.  Caribou and Presque Isle bypass projects separate and move ahead – each at its own pace.
By Kathryn Buxton
 
Association News
Trains, buses, automobiles and jobs.MBTA members take message to the Capitol for Transportation Day.
By Kathryn Buxton
 
Member News
The Austrians are coming.Stillwater firm forges alliance with European equipment dealer.
By Douglas Rooks
 
Harry’s girl. Family and friends honor the memory of Harry Crooker – and a piece of Maine history.
By Rick Ackermann

 


President’s Message

There’s more to do . We need billions to fix our roads and bridges.

By Gregory A. Dore, MBTA President
 
A year can go by quickly, and this one certainly has.
 
My year as president of the Maine Better Transportation Association has been a busy one, and the pace seemed to accelerate as time went on. We covered a lot of ground in the last 12 months.
 
The MBTA year is filled with events and activities from our statewide issue meetings, our annual meeting and convention, the MBTA Infrastructure Golf Tournament and more. But the heart of our calendar is the advocacy work we do to ensure that Maine’s transportation network is as safe and efficient as it should be. That includes numerous opportunities to speak on behalf of the organization about how great the need is and how much more Maine needs to invest to give our families safer highways and bridges and our businesses a more efficient transportation network – including rail and marine freight facilities. It’s an obvious message, I thought, one that everyone can identify with and get behind. What I didn’t count on was how hard it is to get that message out with so many competing interests vying for the public’s attention and the public’s dollar.
 
I was lucky that many other people were out there this past year with the same message, including organizations like Maine Section ASCE.  The Maine chapter published its first-ever Infrastructure Report Card that was widely distributed and covered by media statewide. Kudos to Peter Merfeld, Erik Wiberg and the many members of the local ASCE Chapter who put in hundreds of volunteer hours to complete the report. They all know modernizing our transportation system creates good paying jobs, and that was a message that Maine was ready to hear.
 
There are others right here in Maine, like Senator Dennis Damon who, as chair of the legislature’s Transportation Committee, spends considerable time talking about Maine’s enormous transportation needs. He is constantly telling everyone who listens that Maine’s needs are “not in the millions, but in the billions,” and he isn’t exaggerating in the least.
 
Senator Damon is just stating a hard truth that was underscored in MaineDOT’s new two-year work plan unveiled to the public earlier this spring. In it, MaineDOT states there will be unmet needs costing more than $3 billion over the next 10 years. That $3 billion represents hundreds of bridges that need repairing, thousands of miles of roads that need to be resurfaced or rebuilt, ports that need to be modernized and rail lines that need to be upgraded. We need to find that $3 billion – and maybe more – to invest if we are to have a transportation system that will encourage Maine businesses to grow and keep our families safe.
 
In this month’s cover story we explore a major concern of this organization – what to do about the public’s post-stimulus funding fatigue. Maine is set to receive $130 million in federal stimulus funding for transportation. But as Senator Damon is quick to point out, it is only a drop in a multi-billion dollar bucket. The question is this: How can we persuade our friends, neighbors and business associates to act now, before this massive problem grows even larger?
 
So, as I pass on the MBTA’s presidential gavel to our new president, Tom Martin, I also will pass on an item on my to-do list that I didn’t have a chance to get to this past year. And that would be “Find $3 billion.”
 
I suggest, Tom, that you get to work on that item right way.
 
In closing, I would like to thank all the members and volunteers who make the
hard work the MBTA does enjoyable and fulfilling. MBTA members are great for pitching in at a moment’s notice for the right cause. We also have a wonderful board of directors who I relied on during the past 12 months, for counsel and advice and the occasional pinch hit when I couldn’t attend an MBTA event.
 
I particularly have enjoyed getting to know a special group of dedicated legislators who daily work to make Maine’s transportation system better. They truly have the safety and well being of our communities at heart. It also has been a pleasure to work closely with the MBTA staff – Maria, Deanna, Joyce and Kathryn – who work hard along with our many volunteers to “get the job done.” 

I would be remiss if I didn’t make special mention of our senior policy advisor John Melrose, president of Maine Tomorrow. John is an incredible asset, and we are very fortunate to have him as part of our team. 
Finally, I would like to thank my family and my employer, the town of Skowhegan, for their support and patience. I have enjoyed this year as president very much.

Cover Story : Why the stimulus won’t be enough for Maine

While transportation experts in Maine are grateful for the recent stimulus funding passed by the U.S. Congress, the real work ahead is finding long-term solutions to Maine’s ‘billion dollar’ problems

By Douglas Rooks
 
Construction and paving crews will be busy this summer on I-295 northbound between Gardiner and Brunswick. That’s where the state is rebuilding a crucial transportation link – one of Maine’s first and most visible signs of the federal stimulus spending proposed by the Obama administration and approved by Congress.
 
But the federal money, however welcome, is short-term and will not, by itself, fill the deep hole that constitutes Maine’s transportation infrastructure deficit, according to state transportation officials and many legislators. Even in the first year of the stimulus, MaineDOT shows the capital program falling short of anticipated needs, and the gap widens each of the years after that.
 
“I’ve been telling anyone who will listen that our problem, particularly for roads and bridges, is not in the tens of millions or even the hundreds of millions of dollars,” said Senator Dennis Damon (D-Hancock County), veteran co-chair of the Transportation Committee. “It’s in the billions.”
 
Over the next decade, MaineDOT shows a $3 billion shortfall in the capital program, as escalating needs for replacing infrastructure meets a rapidly worsening outlook for Highway Fund revenues.
 
How bad is it? Well, according to figures presented in April to the Transportation Committee by MaineDOT Deputy Commissioner Bruce Van Note, the annual fuel tax adjustment for inflation in July will be just .2 cents per gallon. That’s by far the lowest increase since the legislature adopted indexing in 2002 and it was implemented the following year. The following year the index is projected to decrease by 1.3 cents for gasoline and 1.4 cents for diesel, representing an overall reversal of consumer prices, something not seen since such economic records have been kept. The figure will be subject to review next February, however.
 
While adding he doesn’t want to be alarmist, Senator Damon said that, for the first time, his committee has been hearing presentations about decommissioning roads and bridges. “We’d be taking out the bridges, and letting the roads return to dirt. Those are the kinds of choices we would have to be making.”
 
Damon said the General Fund shortfall has been occupying most of the legislature’s time and attention this spring – and was still unresolved during May – but he worries in some ways more about the transportation deficits.
 
The state had been funding its capital program for highways and bridges at less than $600 million per biennium, a level that was producing steep increases, particularly, in the number of substandard bridges. Lawmakers decided last year to boost transportation spending, and made a number of provisions to sequester tax revenues and registration fees and borrow through revenue bonds to meet those needs.
 
Identified budget needs for the current biennium are $914 million. With $130 million in stimulus funding, the state comes within $63 million of meeting that goal, according to MaineDOT figures. But in the 2010-2011 biennium that begins this July, the unmet needs – based on current funding projections – balloon to $300 million and continue to grow after that.
 
The federal stimulus money was certainly welcome, but was substantially less than transportation officials had hoped for. As one of them put it, “You have a much different project list when you’re receiving $130 million instead of $1 billion.”
 
Maine roads and bridges are not the only piece of the state’s transportation network to be at risk by lack of funding. The state’s ports and rail networks are also in need of upgrades and modernization, and there are few traditional prospects for funding of these public assets. Several groups in Maine are hoping to win money for port and rail projects in the upcoming round of discretionary funding that is part of the stimulus legislation passed in February. Even so, it would only be the beginning.
 
“Anybody who thinks the stimulus funding will solve our problems is wrong,” said Chris Gardner, director of the Eastport Port Authority. “It’s simply the beginning of getting Maine better connected and better able to compete in the global market.”
 
Advocates for freight and passenger rail and expansion of Maine’s three ports, are trying to lay the groundwork for increasing use of these modes – by strategic investments of stimulus monies – even while making the case for further post-stimulus investment.
 
The most visible signs of the possible extension of Amtrak service north of Portland to Bangor now comes in the form of new train station developments in Freeport and Brunswick. But planning and funding continues for the extension that would connect to existing seasonal passenger service being offered by Maine Eastern Railroad from Brunswick to Rockland. Still to be worked out, however, are matters such as possibly replacing the existing federal subsidy for the Portland to Boston run, which now makes five trips daily and is showing increased ridership.
 
Nate Moulton, who oversees freight rail matters for MaineDOT, says there’s also substantial interest in the old Mountain Division line, which runs from Portland, up through Standish and Windham, to the New Hampshire border. Now state owned, the line could reach a substantial number of freight shippers, according to a recent marketing study. But rail funding for Maine did not figure in the first round of “shovel ready” stimulus funding. Whether it is included next year depends on the results of competitive applications that are now due in November.
 
Gardner, who is also chair of the Washington County commissioners, believes that there’s also an urgent need to begin extending freight rail service to the port.
 
The port authority has authorized preliminary engineering that would rehabilitate an existing line and rights-of-way to bring rail to an intermodal center in Perry, about seven miles from the port operation at Estes Head. Ideally, a direct connection to Eastport would follow, but this would involve building expensive trestles and require permitting outside existing rights of way.
 
Bringing track to Perry would cut the distance from the port to a railhead from more than 20 miles to seven. Gardner said that’s a big deal. “It’s a big piece in making the economics work.”
Local leaders are hoping the project will qualify for some of the discretionary stimulus funding. Estimates are it will cost $25-$30 million, at the low end of the range for “regionally significant projects that can vary from $20-$300 million,” said Gardner.
 
He says he has no doubt about the regional significance of boosting port operations. Nate Moulton said that while MaineDOT is still reviewing possible applications for the competitive round of stimulus funds, he expects the Eastport rail plan to be among them. “It’s probably better to concentrate on a few projects that will score high in the rankings than to just send in a list of possibilities,” he said.
 
The temporary shutdown of the Domtar mill in Baileyville has, for now, eliminated Eastport’s biggest and nearly sole export customer. Up until then, Eastport had been seeing record tonnage of pulp exports.
“It shows the dangers of being dependent on any one industry, and any one customer,” Gardner said. “We need to diversify, and we need to be able to import as well as export.”
 
To do that, he hopes Eastport will be able to obtain state funding in a projected November transportation bond for an automated bulk handling system projected to cost $3-$5 million. “Looking at all our competitors, bulk cargo is where we may be able to find a niche,” he said.
 
The alternatives are not promising. If the Domtar shutdown became permanent, for instance, Gardiner said, it could drive Washington County’s unemployment rate to 25 percent, more than double the existing level. “It is scary to think about losing the area’s biggest employer,” he said. “If any place can make a good argument for stimulus funding, it’s Washington County.”
 
The end of pulp shipments in May happened to coincide with the first imports Eastport has had in a long time – giant windmill blades destined for projects around Maine. But no one knows yet how substantial that business might be long-term.
 
For skeptics who say that eastern Washington County once had rail service and lost it, showing a lack of economic need, Gardner said that the facts indicate otherwise. “There was never rail and a port operating at the same time here,” he said. “The rail lines shut down before the port came on line. Everything we see now shows us that ports with rail connections are going to be a lot more competitive.”
 
Senator Damon said that while he’s well aware of all the bleak scenarios, he doesn’t subscribe to the thinking that they’re inevitable.

“If we’re serious about moving Maine forward, we have to recognize that our past success has been built on our infrastructure,” he said. “One way or the other, we’re going to have to take this on.”
While the future may seem cloudy at the moment, Damon said that the state has rallied before and can again: “Somehow I don’t quite see us returning to the horse and buggy.”
 
At a glance: Maine’s unmet needs
Even with $130 million in stimulus funding, the state will see a sharp drop in highway investments – and a quickening deterioration of services
 
Earlier this year, MaineDOT released its Two Year Work Plan for FY 2010-2011. The work plan outlines highway and bridge projects totaling $809 million, a level of funding advocates say is woefully inadequate.
 
“We are getting to a point where the deterioration of our highways is going to accelerate rapidly if we don’t do something about it,” said Maria Fuentes, MBTA executive director.
 
These charts, provided by MaineDOT, tell a story of decline:
  • 26 percent drop in overall capital investments in highways and bridges (Chart A);
  • 60 percent decline in funding for highway construction (this represents a 77 percent decrease in the miles of highway that will be rebuilt) (Chart B);
  • 38 percent decrease in funding for highway rehabilitation (that means a 62 percent decrease in highway miles rehabilitated) (Chart C); and
  • 18 percent decline in dollars spent on surface treatments (represents a 10 percent decrease in miles resurfaced) (Chart D).
Just weeks after MaineDOT released its two-year plan, the Maine Revenue Forecasting Commission issued its revised revenue projections for the Highway Fund, and the outlook grew bleaker. Falling fuel tax and fee revenues promise to create an estimated $59 million hole in MaineDOT’s maintenance program over the next three years.
 
The most heartening development is a 22 percent increase in funding for bridge maintenance (Chart F). That is thanks to a special bridge funding measure championed by Governor Baldacci and the MBTA and passed by the Maine Legislature in 2008 (LD 2313: “An Act to Keep Our Bridges Safe”). That measure increases the number of bridges MaineDOT will repair or replace by 42 during the 2010-2011 funding cycle.
 
Said Fuentes, “It shows us what can be done when the public and legislators recognize the dire consequences of underfunding and take steps to do something about it.”

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.

 


A tale of two bypasses

North-South Highway advocates score a victory with the governor’s endorsement of a plan that separates the Caribou Connector and Presque Isle bypass – and allows both projects to proceed at their own pace

By Kathryn Buxton
 
After waiting 30 years, a year can go by quickly.
 
That promises to be the case for the city of Caribou as it prepares to break ground on the Caribou Connector bypass. The city began planning for a bypass at least three decades ago. Now, thanks to a round of accelerated negotiations between MaineDOT, Governor Baldacci, Leaders Encouraging Aroostook Development (LEAD) and the cities of Presque Isle and Caribou, the Caribou Connector is expected to begin construction in 2010.
 
Governor Baldacci announced the decision to separate the projects in March, inking his signature to a memorandum of agreement with MaineDOT and the cities of Caribou and Presque Isle. The two bypasses were originally part of a single 2006 MaineDOT draft environmental impact study that identified several routes for both bypasses. The agreement means that Caribou can move forward on its bypass, and Presque Isle will continue its efforts to select a route.
 
“I think the governor recognized that the money sitting ‘in the bank’ could be used as an economic stimulus for Aroostook County,” said Nate Berry, president of LEAD.
 
The Caribou Connector is part of a much larger vision for a North-South Highway the MBTA has long supported. It is central to a proposed 110-mile extension of the interstate that eventually will form a modern transportation corridor connecting Aroostook County’s largest population centers with Canada and regions to the south. The objective is to help spur economic development in the region.
 
The success of both bypass projects is seen as so vital to the region, Representative John Martin (D-Aroostook) called for a round of meetings early this year between the two cities, MaineDOT and the Aroostook County legislative delegation. The decision to seek approvals to separate the two projects came out of those meetings.
 
“This is good news. It’s important – not only to the region – but to the whole state.

It means jobs at a time when Maine really needs the jobs,” said Maria Fuentes, executive director of the MBTA who had praise for the efforts to expedite the project. She said that by making traffic and freight movement through the region efficient, “Maine will see benefits from this project for years to come.”
 
Separate ways
 
The agreement marked a departure from the project as it was originally envisioned. The Caribou Connector had been linked with planning and construction of a second bypass around the city of Presque Isle in the Aroostook Transportation Study that was completed in 2006 by Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc. The Presque Isle portion of the project, identified as Segment 7 in the draft environmental impact and planning studies, is still under discussion by residents of Presque Isle and MaineDOT. The Army Corps of Engineers has not yet endorsed any of the routes proposed in that study.
 
A major impetus for separating the two projects was the independent utility of each project and the idea that expediting one of the projects now would bring much needed jobs to the region. The cost for completion of the Caribou segment is estimated at $20 million. It will be funded from a federal pot of $40 million secured by Senator Susan Collins, with support from Maine’s congressional delegation, for the North-South Highway project in the 1998 and 2005 federal transportation authorizations.
 
Removing the trucks
 
Based on the draft environmental impact analysis, the Army Corps of Engineers recommended locating the new Caribou highway along a route similar to a route identified in an old comprehensive plan for the city. Caribou City Manager Steven Buck said the route also supports findings from a 2004 traffic study completed for the city by the engineering firm Erdman, Anthony and Associates, Inc. That study called for removing non-destination traffic, including heavy trucks, to help revitalize the city, increase pedestrian safety and provide greater opportunity for downtown redevelopment.
 
Economic development is a central theme to the entire region’s support of the Caribou and Presque Isle bypasses and a north-south highway. The 2006 VHB study, in fact, identifies the primary objective as identifying “transportation improvements that would help stem the economic downturn that has occurred over the past several decades and spur future economic growth within the study area.”
 
That is why, Berry said, LEAD and the Aroostook County delegation will continue to advocate for final approval and construction of the Presque Isle bypass. He said the draft environment impact study and public process for that bypass has taken more time, as the city weighs the merits of numerous alignment alternatives. “In Presque Isle, there has been more concern about the project,” said Berry. “The feeling was that if the Caribou piece could be permitted, we could move forward separately on the rest of the project.”
 
Shovel in the ground
 
The efforts in Caribou have followed a more expedited path. By early this year, Caribou City Manager Steven Buck said, there was a feeling among all parties involved that “it was time to get a shovel in the ground.” He said the series of meetings requested by Representative Martin was instrumental in expediting the process. At one of those meetings, the idea of separating the two projects was introduced.
 
From the moment of the governor’s an--nounce-ment, the pace has quickened. In early April, the Federal Highway Administration lent its seal of approval for separating the two projects in a letter to Commissioner Cole.
 
Buck said the announcement that construction will begin soon has “energized the community.”
 
“The telephone conference with the governor was over at 4 p.m., it was on the local TV news at 6 p.m. and the agreement was printed in the newspaper the next morning,” said Buck.
 
During the weeks since, Buck’s office has been a popular stop for residents as they come to review the 3’ x 4’ wall map hanging there, showing the bypass route. He said there have been a number of questions about the interim steps leading up to the groundbreaking – particularly about the survey and assessments MaineDOT will need to complete before acquiring the land for the bypass. He said the city has asked MaineDOT, once it has finalized the environmental impact statement, to put together a project timeline and an outline of the process to answer the public’s questions and concerns about the route. Communication, he said, will be key as the project moves forward.
 
“I believe that Caribou is where it is in supporting this project, especially among impacted property owners, because of the strong communication we have had,” said Buck.
 
Memorandum of Agreement

Between the State of Maine Department of Transportation, City of Caribou and the City of Presque Isle regarding the Aroostook County Transportation Study proposed Caribou Connector project Whereas, Governor John E. Baldacci has directed the MaineDOT to advance an Aroostook County transportation project so that construction on the proposed Caribou Connector project can begin in 2010; and Whereas, on September 18, 2008, MaineDOT and the Federal Highway Administration received an alignment approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers regarding the Caribou Connector;

Now therefore, Governor John E. Baldacci, MaineDOT, the City of Caribou and the City of Presque Isle, agree to the following:
 
  • All parties will support a Reevaluation Document to be submitted to the Federal Highway Administration that requests the separation of the Caribou and Presque Isle segment of the North-South Highway Study; and
  • MaineDOT will expedite construction of the Caribou Connector in the 2010 construction season utilizing existing resources obtained by the State’s Congressional Delegation; and
  • Work on the Presque Isle Segment will continue unabated, with the planning work expected to be complete by the 2011 construction season.
John E. Baldacci, Governor
David Cole, Commissioner State of Maine Maine Department of Transportation
Steven Buck, City Manager City of Caribou
Thomas Stevens, City of Presque Isle
Signed March 6, 2009

 

Trains, buses, automobiles and jobs

7th Transportation Day important pit stop for Governor, legislators in busy day

By Kathryn Buxton
 

Governor John Baldacci set a fast pace as he toured Transportation Day at the Capitol’s Hall of Flags in Augusta April 1. He made the rounds of 20 exhibits detailing various aspects of Maine’s transportation system – from roads and rail to transit and trails.

A steady stream of state legislators also made the event an important stopover during a busy day of committee meetings at the capitol, including most members of the legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Transportation. MaineDOT Commissioner David Cole also stopped by and visited different exhibitors.
 
The governor delivered the opening remarks for the day and spoke about the importance of investing in Maine’s transportation infrastructure if the state is to make a strong recovery from the current recession. “If we don’t invest in our roads, rails, ports and airports, businesses cannot efficiently get their goods to market,” Baldacci said, addressing the seventh biennial event organized by the Maine Bettter Transportation Association.
 
“We need to invest if we want to grow out of the recession. We need sound investments to ensure that businesses and people have the tools to be more successful to compete around the globe,” said Baldacci. He stressed the importance of the $143 million Maine is receiving in the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act funds for highways, bridges and transit. He said that funding is already putting people to work in Maine. He also advocated for the $306 million transportation bond proposal that he presented earlier this year.
 
“This spring, summer and fall, we are going to put about 11,000 people to work on transportation projects,” said the governor. “The state’s investment package that I presented will create thousands of jobs over three years.”
 
Baldacci also hinted at the size and scope of MaineDOT’s 2010-2011 Work Plan that was unveiled to the Maine Legislature’s Transportation Committee and leaders in the transportation community the following day. The work plan includes $809 million in capital projects and more than $61 million in transit operating support.
 
“The hundreds of projects included in this program will provide yet another major injection of money into our economy and more long-term benefits for our state,” Governor Baldacci said. “The highway and bridge projects in this work plan alone can be expected to create or preserve more than 15,600 jobs. What Maine needs now are jobs. The recovery funds, combined with my proposed investment package and the MaineDOT’s biennial work plan will put people to work. That is the best way to begin stimulating our economy again.”

 


The Austrians are coming

Stillwater firm forges alliance with Austrian equipment maker

By Douglas Rooks

Herb sargent has tried to keep it low-key, but his addition of a welding and fabrication building to manufacture steel excavation shovels and attachments has attracted plenty of attention, including a visit from Gov. John Baldacci and prominent coverage in the Bangor Daily News and on local television stations.

The recent 6,000-square-foot addition to Sargent Corporation’s welding and repair operation has created five new jobs, and could produce as many as 20 – an economic boost to the Old Town area at a time when the local news is dominated by downsizings and layoffs at many manufacturers.
 
Sargent admits that it’s unusual for an excavation contractor to build equipment as well – “I can’t think of another firm like ours that does it” – but he also says it’s a natural outgrowth of his conversations with a long-time supplier, Wimmer Felstechnik GmbH of Austria.
 
In 2002, Sargent was shopping for the hydraulic couplers that permit easy detachment and connection of excavating attachments, a major time-saver, and found that the Austrian firm offered “the best in the business.”
 
A few years later, when Sargent reunited his own firm with H.E. Sargent, he began converting all of the equipment for the much larger merged company to Wimmer couplers, a move that wound up making Sargent Corp. its largest North American customer.
 
In a subsequent visit to Austria, Sargent learned from a Wimmer representative that “they wanted us to try something new.” The proposed venture involved closing Wimmer’s existing shop in Montreal and moving the business to Sargent’s Stillwater operation in Maine. A year ago, the two companies closed the deal. Wimmer also operates production facilities in Salzburg, Austria, and Budweis, Czech Republic.
 
Sargent said it wasn’t a complicated transaction, and was concluded “almost on the back of a napkin.” When he toured Wimmer’s operation in Salzburg, he found it impressive. That first-hand look encouraged him to pursue a long-term relationship with the Austrian company. In essence, Sargent has reversed its relationship with Wimmer, becoming its North American supplier, instead of solely a buyer.
 
At this point, orders are modest, in Sargent’s estimation. “We haven’t invested a lot in personnel,” and there other jobs the workers can do when they have downtime, he said.
 
Still, “the type of people we’re bringing on can be used elsewhere in our operation,” he said, and the technical skills involved benefit the whole company. Sargent Corp. currently employs about 400 people, with annual sales of $90 million.
 
Sargent says the company’s orders are solid through next year, but he’s always looking for alternatives if business slows. If there are fewer orders for buckets and attachments, for instance, he figures that the same crew can build trench shields widely used by excavating contractors.
 
At a news conference in April, Old Town Town Manager Peggy Daigle praised Sargent Corp.’s operations. The new manufacturing facility “helps make Sargent more secure and brings jobs and investment to Old Town,” she said.
 
The Austrian firm is also pleased with the arrangement. Andreas Wimmer, head of the Austrian firm, said that Sargent Corp.’s knowledge of the equipment and how it is used will “ensure that our products are designed, built and improved with real-world application” and Sargent’s excellent reputation in the construction industry means that “we have a partner in the United States whose reputation we can count upon.”


 Harry’s girl

Ted and Frank Crooker honor their father by taking his historic and lovingly restored Lombard Steam Log Hauler out for a ride

 By Rick Ackermann

Five years to the day after Harry C. Crooker died, his family and a great community of friends fired up the Lombard Steam Log Hauler No. 74.

The ancient engine had been Crooker’s pride and joy. He had found the once broken down machine in the Allagash near Eagle Lake during the 1960s and worked years to bring it back to life. So on that cold day this past February at Marion’s Pit off the Old Bath Road in Brunswick, the group gathered to honor Harry in the best way they could. Harry’s wife, 93-year-old Marion (the pit was named for her), was there for the steamer’s revival. Family members describe their mother as Harry’s “sidekick and greatest supporter” and say she shares their father’s “zest for life and all things Maine.”
 
Harry’s steam log hauler is one of only 84 ever made. Owned by Harry’s now grown sons Frank and Ted, it is one of the few known surviving originals. It looks like a locomotive, a bulldozer, a giant oil tank and a treehouse – all in one. It measures 30 feet in length, weighs 19 tons and, at top speed, travels at 20 miles an hour.
 
“This girl is in about as nice a shape as can be,” said Ted Crooker, Harry’s son. He said that he and his brother Frank have continued their father’s effort to keep the engine in top shape and recently replaced all 82 of its heating tubes, getting the engine ready for its recent run.
 
A workhorse
 
The Lombard was the workhorse of the turn-of-the century New England forest. It represented a major innovation for the day. Many lumber mills were built all over Maine in the 18th century. Originally oxen and horses drew logs on sleds out of the forests, often over frozen ponds and lakes. This was a deadly practice for the animals. Many were injured or killed when runaway sleds overcame the horses with the heavy loads they carried.
 
In 1900, a millwright and mechanic from Waterville, Alvin Orlando Lombard, invented the first steam log hauler at the old Waterville Iron Works. “Mary Ann” was driven on cleated steel tracks that turned by a chain. The tracks rode on Lombard’s invention that he called the “endless roller chain.” Lombard’s design later became a central concept for army tanks and bulldozers, and its inventor was said to regret not having protected his design.
 
By 1906 the revolutionary steam log hauler was selling for $5,500 and was in high demand throughout New England and beyond. The hauler used the same logging sleds used by horse teams, only more of them. Operating 24 hours a day in all kinds of weather, the Lombard could haul up to 20 sleds, stacked with up to 600 tons of wood at a top speed of five miles an hour on the flats and up to 20 miles an hour on the downhills. The machines were operated round the clock to avoid damage caused if they were not properly shut down during sub-freezing New England winter months. (There was no antifreeze in those days.)
 
There was no braking system, so a steerman sitting behind a steering wheel on a bobsled at the front of the engine had to maneuver his forest train around curves and standing trees. While the engine moved slowly and was easy to slow down and stop on a flat, the trouble came when on a hill with a full, heavy load of logs. The steerman literally took his life in his hands. That’s why, Crooker said, steermen earned the higher salaries and “their life expectancy was short!”
 
It was eventually replaced by evolving gasoline and diesel machines, and later by heavy trucks. The last steam powered log hauler remained in service until 1918. Most of Lombard’s steam log haulers didn’t survive. Many were abandoned in the woods, becoming part of the forests they’d served so well.
 
Original and authentic
 
Many remember Harry Crooker as a man of prodigous energy. He founded Harry C. Crooker & Sons, a Brunswick based paving company that has been a longtime member of the MBTA. He also founded and/or invested in many other area businesses, including Crooker & Simpson, Crooker Mobile Home Park, & Sales Inc., Valerie’s Boutique and two restaurants – the Taste of Maine and Estes Lobster House.
 
In his spare time, he traveled all over Maine, often with his three sons Larry, Ted and Frank, looking for parts for what he considered an important piece of Maine history. He spent hours restoring the machine that had most of its brass fixtures and gauges removed when Harry found it. Whenever possible, Harry (and later Ted and Frank) used original parts the Crookers found on their travels. When they couldn’t find a part, they frequently had to hand craft the replacement.
 
According to Ted, “it is a truly unique piece of Maine history and my brother and I know of no other working Lombard Steam Log Hauler that is this complete and original. It is priceless. Prices of six figures have been offered and rejected. For now, it’s with the family.”
 
For several years the Crookers’ Lombard Steam Log Hauler was on display at the Owls Head Transportation Museum. Concerned that it would deteriorate if left outside unprotected from the weather, Ted and Frank brought it back home. The brothers hope to find a place for it where their kids and their grandkids can enjoy it for years to come.
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