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Maine hopes for a TIGER – or two – in its tank

State submits five proposals for ARRA discretionary grants

By Kathryn Buxton
One bridge, one bypass, three ports and several passenger and freight rail lines are Maine’s candidates for two pots of discretionary funding that are part of of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) signed into law earlier this year.
Six of Maine’s grant requests totalling $236.2 million are competing against requests from 49 other states and the District of Columbia. In total there is $1.5 billlion in TIGER funding (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) at stake. The competitive grant process is being administered by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Three other grant proposals, submitted by NNEPRA (Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority), are vying for part of a second $8 billion pot of ARRA money intended to jump start investment in a national high speed intercity rail network. The Federal Rail Authority is managing the High Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program (HSIRP).
How any one of Maine’s grant requests will fare in the fiercely competitive process is hard to predict. All TIGER grant requests had to be submitted by mid-September 2009 (HSIRP proposals were due in August and early October). Grants are slated to be announced by February 2010. Maine’s proposals were among 1,400 TIGER grant proposals submitted by cash-strapped states that have been hit hard by the recession. NNEPRA’s three requests are competing in a pool of $50 billion in rail proposals to bring high speed rail to commuter corridors across the country. The Federal Rail Authority (FRA) will award $8 billion in HSIRP funding.
“I’m not sure how they [the U.S. DOT] will whittle it down, there are so many proposals,” said Nate Moulton, director of MaineDOT’s rail program.
Moulton oversaw three different Maine rail grants for TIGER funding. He said that since the applications were submitted, his office hasn’t heard anything from the DOT about progress in the grant selection process. “There have been no queries. I think they will make their their selections and just come out and announce them. We’ll either be in or out.”
Two of the grant applications were for highway or bridge projects: a request for funding of two bridges issued jointly by the MaineDOT and NHDOT; and funding for the Caribou Connector.
Russell Charette, MaineDOT mobility management director, oversaw the Caribou Connector request for $25 million that is part of a larger $132 million, two-bypass project in Aroostook County. Even though the Caribou Connector is nearly “shovel-ready” – the project is still waiting for final environmental approval – Charette said it was a scramble to assemble the request by the submission deadline. The DOT issued a lengthy list of criteria on which all ARRA projects will be assessed including: short- and long-term job creation; “livability”; economic stimulation; and cost-to-benefit analyses.
“The format and type of information required were a new area for us in terms of documentation,” said Charette. He said that the highly scrutinized ARRA grant process, its broad scope and emphasis on transparency and accountability will be likely to set the standard for government funding in the years to come.
MaineDOT also chose to bundle projects at Maine’s three deepwater ports under a single proposal titled “Revitalizing Maine’s Ports” in order to meet the grant application’s $20 million threshold. The resulting grant application requested $32 million to fund improvements to make Portland, Searsport and Eastport more competitive for marine freight. According to John Henshaw of the Maine Port Authority, one strategy was to make a case to the federal government of the project’s value by demonstrating how well the port investments dovetailed with the state’s long-term commitment to a three-port strategy.
“We decided to look at improvements that would be realistically possible rather than just put out a wish list,” said Henshaw.
Perhaps the most highly publicized ARRA requests were a series of three proposals submitted by NNEPRA for improvements and extension of its Amtrak Downeaster line. From the early talk of the high speed intercity rail program, Maine rail advocates had held high hopes for the state’s chances for funding to extend the line to Freeport and Brunswick. But for many, the sheer number of grant submittals and dollar amounts requested has been sobering.
The FRA also appears to have been overwhelmed by this flurry of interest in rail money. Soon after the submission deadline, the FRA quickly put off announcement of grant awards – originally scheduled for late 2009 – until February 2010. And there is word that the nature of many of the proposals veered from Congress’s original intent to fund construction of new high speed rail infrastructure.
“I think the question they face now is: Do we use this money to invest in a new direction for the country or do we try to improve existing rail service?” said Patricia Quinn of NNEPRA.
Moulton said the selection process will, no doubt, be colored by many factors. “How do you go about rating a port proposal like the Eastport Gateway against a highway project like the Caribou Connector?” asked Moulton. However you do, the volume of proposals, the limited dollars and the inevitable role of politics will make scoring grant requests a challenge. Still, he is hopeful Maine will get a fair share of the ARRA pot.
“When I look at the cost-benefit analysis, I feel good about our numbers,” said Moulton.
Maine’s TIGER & HSIRP candidates
Caribou Connector
Applicant: MaineDOT
Project cost: $132 million (including Presque Isle bypass not included in this grant)
Grant request: $25 million
Description: Construct a 4.28-mile highway
bypass to eliminate heavy truck traffic through downtown Caribou; project is expected to
enhance travel mobility and efficiency, and support regional economic growth within northeastern Aroostook County.
Jobs: Will support 130 annual jobs 2010-2012; between 595 and 1,133 jobs from 2010 to 2030.
Cost-benefit ratio: 1.29
Downeaster Rail Projects
(3 grant requests)
Applicant: NNEPRA
Project costs: $37.5 million - $38.4 million (Portland North Р submitted in two different proposal tracks); $52.6 million (Pan Am Line)
Total grant requests: $90 million
Description: Three separate HSIPR grant requests for improvements to Amtrak Downeaster include two applications (Track 1 and Track 2) to rehabilitate 30 miles of track between Portland and Brunswick to support passenger service to Freeport and Brunswick and a Track 2 Application for track and siding improvements along the Pan Am Line between Portland, Maine, and Plaistow, New Hampshire, to reduce travel time and increase capacity.
Jobs: Will support 364 construction jobs on Pan Am Line; 184 jobs on Portland North extension.
Cost-benefit ratio: 1.56 (Pan Am Line)
Eastport Gateway Project
Applicant: MaineDOT
Project cost: $62.2 million
Grant request: $57.7 million
Description: Rail line restoration and rehabilitation and transload facility to reconnect the port of Eastport to the North American rail network and provide multi-modal connectivity. Project area covers 27 miles in Washington County, Maine.
Jobs: Will support 323 construction jobs; between 21 and 323 annual operational jobs from 2010 to 2030.
Cost-benefit ratio: 2.39
Mountain Division Rail Restoration Project
Applicant: MaineDOT
Project cost: $31.4 million / grant request:
$28.5 million
Description: Restoration of freight and passenger service on 50-mile section of state-owned rail corridor connecting Portland, Maine, with active rail lines in New Hampshire and Vermont, as well as to Amtrak passenger rail service between Portland and Boston, Massachusetts.
Jobs: Will support between 8-60 construction jobs; 61 operation and maintenance jobs annually;
434 manufacturing jobs from 2010 to 2030.
Cost-benefit ratio: 1.59
Northern Tier Rail Preservation Project
Applicant: MaineDOT
Project cost: $23 million
Grant request: $23 million
Description: Acquisition of rail lines owned by Montreal Maine & Atlantic by the state and rehabilitation, preservation and enhancement of freight rail operations on 233.05 miles of main line and branch lines in rural Aroostook and Penobscot counties. Project would ensure “continuation of essential freight rail services” for 21 businesses along the main line segment and branches. It would “enhance the economic competiveness (and survival) of the region and its communities.”
Jobs: Will support 88 construction jobs; 85 operation and maintenance jobs initially; 400 operation and maintenance jobs by 2030.
Cost-benefit ratio: 1.73
Piscataqua River Multimodal Transportation Improvements
Applicants: NHDOT & MaineDOT
Project cost: $150 million
grant requests: Part A: $70 million;
Part B (NHDOT only): $10 million
Description: Rehabilitation of the Memorial and Sarah Mildred Long bridges that cross the Piscataqua River at the Maine-New Hampshire border. The two historic steel truss bridges tie together the communities of Kittery, Maine, and Portsmouth, New Hampshire. After the grant request was submitted, the Memorial Bridge was closed to all but bicycle and pedestrian traffic due to concerns about the deteriorating bridge structure. “Closing the Memorial Bridge will negatively impact both residents and visitors in the area who are now able to walk between Portsmouth and Kittery.”
Jobs: Will support 198 construction jobs on Memorial Bridge; 160 construction jobs on Sarah Long Bridge; and 67 construction jobs on Market Street Wharf.
Cost-benefit ratio: 1.5
Revitalizing Maine’s Ports
Applicant: MaineDOT and Maine Port Authority
Project cost: $102.9 million (including federal, state and private investments made between 1998 and 2009)
Grant request: $32 million
Description: Project would invest in Maine’s three major deepwater ports - Portland ($23 million); Searsport ($7 million); and Eastport ($2 million) - to increase the state’s capacity to handle marine freight. Investments would include handling equipment, storage facilities and conveyor systems at Eastport and Searsport. Also improvements in Portland to International Marine Terminal to increase freight handling capacity and to Ocean Gateway Pier 2B to increase cruise ship handling capacity and to create a cost-effective dredge disposal option (CAD cell) to preserve freight capacity of the port.
Jobs: Will support 434 construction jobs; 2,595 operations jobs through 2030.
Cost-benefit ratio: Portland Ocean Gateway 2.51; Portland CAD cell 1.35; Portland IMT 1.56; Searsport Mack Point 1.22; Eastport Estes Head 1.04.
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