No way to smooth things over
Maine faces a bumpy time ahead if we don’t find a way to finance the transportation network we need for our economy to recover.
This is the time of year that Mainers tend to tackle those big, essential tasks that we can’t do during the long winter and spring. We put on new roofs. We paint our houses. We reconstruct our highways and fix our bridges. We also do a lot of paving.
This year, we were waiting for a biennial infusion of road funding before we could get to work. June 30 was the end of Maine’s fiscal year – and the end of the biennial transportation funding cycle, and we knew that funding was going to be tight. With vehicles becoming increasingly more efficient, the impact on fuel tax revenues has been severe. Additionally, the recession that has hit Maine and the country hard, has dealt a blow to the transportation sector since Mainers are driving less and paying less fuel tax.
For several weeks this spring, Maine Legislature’s Joint Committee on Transportation had been working on a temporary solution for this transportation cash crunch. Although they put together several proposals to increase the fuel tax to help span the funding gap, none received the support needed to pass.
Where does this leave us? In my town of Benton, and in towns and cities across the state, we rely on fuel tax revenues for routine paving of state roads that we count on every day.
In fact, in June, MaineDOT cut its maintenance surface treatment (MST) program drastically. In this funding cycle, the state is scheduled to pave only 250 miles of highway when we should be tackling 1,200-1,400 miles in towns like mine all across Maine.
MST paving is a critical piece in MaineDOT’s routine cycle of maintenance. MST paving helps makes Maine’s worst roads passable. It seals the highway surface and prevents water from penetrating the surface. During a wet summer, like the one we’ve been having, water can open up cracks in the surface. During winter, with the expansion of moisture through constant thawing and freezing, those cracks become potholes. MST paving slows the degradation of the road surface. The longer we neglect our highways by delaying this important maintenance, the faster potholes form.
Without a good MST program, our way forward will be rougher.
That means hundreds of miles of state roads will become increasingly vulnerable to cracking and potholes. It means Mainers will pay hundreds of dollars more in maintenance costs to replace tires and align their vehicles. As a society, it will cost us millions of dollars more in deferred maintenance – because every year we fail to perform routine maintenance, the more expensive the maintenance becomes.
It’s not just our roads that are being neglected. The lack of adequate transportation funding hit non-highway modes as well. The legislature also scaled back the Governor’s transportation bond proposal from $127 million to just $71.25 million for the current biennium. That means key investments in aviation, trails, rail and transit have all been put aside. Investments in Maine’s ports have been severely cut back, too. That could risk Maine’s federal match for an important dredging project in Searsport. Those non-highway investments bring longer-term benefits from jobs and increased business investment to improved quality of life.
We are in challenging times, but cutting back on essentials like transportation – particularly when it directly creates so many good paying jobs, saves Mainers money and makes it more cost effective for our businesses to operate – seems shortsighted.
The Transportation Committee is holding two special sessions this summer in an effort to address the funding gap. Be sure to watch your e-mail for updates on the situation.
Finally, in closing, I’d like to say thank you for electing me president and for your continuing support, your willingness and your courage to speak in support of safe, efficient transportation for our state. I look forward to working with all of you in the months ahead. I hope to see you at the MBTA annual convention in September.