Transportation on the ballot: Question 3 (Bond Issue): Do you favor a $47,800,000 bond issue to create jobs in Maine through improvements to highways, railroads and marine facilities, including port and harbor structures, and specifying the allocation of $4,000,000 of the transportation bond approved by voters in November 2009 to be used for capital rail purposes?
On June 8, mainers vote on a $47.8 million bond – Question 3 on the ballot. Question 3 is part of a $108.3 million Jobs Bond package that the MBTA board has endorsed in the upcoming election. I will focus my comments on Question 3. If it passes, Maine will see more good-paying jobs and improved infrastructure for roads, rail and marine use. That is why it is important we get out the vote.
I believe the investments in Question 3 are critical for our state, and I am urging my family, friends, co-workers and business associates to vote yes on Question 3. I hope you will, too.
This was a challenging legislative session in Augusta. There were many who had hoped to see the legislature consider an increase in the fuel tax and possibly other long-term funding solutions on the table. But the recession, borrowing concerns and lackluster state revenues took center stage. While I firmly believe by fully funding transportation in Maine, we would see major economic gains for everyone in the state, it is hard to muster support for major transportation initiatives when people are talking about cuts in human services and education.
Yet, we did get a bond bill passed. We didn’t get everything we wanted. Still, in these times it was a significant victory to get a bond bill passed. Here’s what we did get:
The bond that goes before voters in June includes $24.8 million for highway projects, including reconstruction projects in: Farmingdale, Perry-Whiting, Chesterville, Farmington, and Jay-Wilton. Also, there are a number of capital paving projects included.
Another $6.5 million in the bond will go for a deepwater berth in Portland (Ocean Gateway) and $500,000 for the Small Harbor Improvement matching grant program.
There’s another $16 million for rail, including $7 million towards the purchase of the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railroad’s 233-miles of track in Aroostook County, which its owner is on the verge of abandoning. Saving the Aroostook rail line proved to be a hard fought battle in the legislature. While almost everyone agrees that Maine needs to preserve this essential transportation resource, how to do it – and pay for it – was hotly debated.
Representative Ken Theriault (D-Madawaska) voiced what so many feel about the line: “It is imperative that we maintain these tracks. The number of businesses, communities and people that depend on these rails for the transport of lumber, wood chips, pulp wood, and heating fuels are too numerous to count. This abandonment will trickle down to many throughout the state. A state without rail in the north country would not be inviting to new businesses, and the end result will be lost jobs.”
The truth is, Ken could have been speaking about the challenges that face our entire transportation network. A state without a smooth running infrastructure – roads, rails, ports and aviation – makes it harder to keep existing businesses competitive and to attract new businesses. Lack of transportation funding results in lost jobs and a struggling economy. A yes vote on Question 3 will help mitigate these factors by giving Maine the means to invest $47.8 million in roads, rail and ports.
Questions 2, 4 and 5 are the other three ballot items the MBTA board is urging members to vote yes on. Question 2 will create jobs by investing $26.5 million in offshore wind projects, green jobs and energy savings at Maine’s public colleges and universities. Question 4 will stimulate the economy with $23.75 million in investments in R&D, fishing, agriculture, dairy, lumbering and redevelopment of the Brunswick Naval Air Station. Passage of Question 5 will invest $10.25 million in Maine’s agriculture industry and water resources. All together, these three bond issues will leverage $97.75 million in federal and other funds.
This is my last column as MBTA president, and I want to say “thank you” to all of you who I have worked with this past year.
We’ve accomplished a great deal. We worked with MaineDOT to put $137 million in federal stimulus dollars to work to get Maine people working. We helped pass a $71.25 million transportation bond issue last November. We helped to defeat two referendums that would have had devastating consequences for transportation funding at the state and local level. Finally, we made more people aware of the transportation issues facing our state through advocacy and initiatives like our ongoing FixMaineRoads.org social media campaign.
Throughout all of these efforts, I have enjoyed working with the board, our membership and the MBTA staff. And special thanks go out to Greg Dore, our past president, for his guidance and support this past year. I know you will continue to support my successor as MBTA president, Deborah Dunlap Avashti, as she takes up the charge. Thanks for a great year!