Transportation: The case for investment
This November, as Mainers head to the polls, their votes for governor and state representatives and senators have the power to shape the future of transportation in Maine.
The problem: An aging transportation system – and an obsolete funding approach
Maine’s transportation network is vast and the resources to fund it are limited. To make the situation worse, our commitment to operate and maintain the system – one that includes 22,803 public road miles, 3,700 bridges, 36 public airports, 600 miles of bike and pedestrian trails, three major ocean ports, 11 ferry services, 1,187 miles of active rail and 16 fixed route transit services – has not kept pace with other state priorities.
Since the 1970s, Maine’s funding priorities have shifted away from transportation, and Highway Fund revenues have not kept pace with state transportation needs. Roads and bridges are most affected by this shortfall in funding, and there is an enormous backlog of deteriorating roads and bridges. Over the next two years, Maine’s Highway Fund faces a structural budget shortfall of $720 million; in the next 10 years, Maine faces an estimated $3.3 billion gap.
We can fix this: Principles for a solution
Maine’s transportation system is vast, multimodal and we have a limited population base to share the cost of its maintenance and modernization. Yet, through innovation, efficiency, improved prioritization and fiscal discipline, we can get the job done.
By making a commitment to improve our transportation system, Maine will see great benefits:
- improved mobility
- lower transportation costs
- reduced traffic-related injuries and deaths
- cost-effective transportation options
- improved quality of life
- economic growth
We can fix our transportation system – and share the benefits for our generation and our children’s – by adhering to the four core principles described below. For a more detailed explanation of these recommendations, please visit www.mbtaonline.org.
Principle 1: Advancing the user-funding model
Whenever possible, transportation services should be paid for by the individuals and businesses that use them at a level sufficient to fully fund the service.
The Maine Better Transportation Association advocates for a shift in how our state funds our vital transportation networks – road, rail, transit, air and marine. By advancing a user-funding model, we can increase efficiency and safety, improve mobility and lower transportation costs for individuals and businesses throughout Maine.
We need to take steps to stabilize funding for our transportation system, from increasing the gas tax to restore the Highway Fund’s buying power and using public funds to leverage private investments that will increase the competitiveness of our ports to adjusting vehicle fees to reflect inflation and dedicating a larger portion of transportation-related sales taxes to transportation investments.
Highway: Increase fuel taxes to restore Highway Fund buying power.
Highway: Modernize the gasoline tax to reflect fuel efficiency.
Highway: Adjust vehicle fees to reflect inflation.
Highway: Seek federal funding fairness.
Ports / Passenger & Freight Rail: Innovate to leverage private investment.
Multi-modal: Dedicate a portion of the growth of transportation-related sales tax.
Multi-modal: Grow the STAR (State Transit, Aviation and Rail) account.
Multi-modal: Partner with New Hampshire to secure future of
Principle 2: Addressing the backlog
The capital repair backlog should be eliminated and future repairs paid for according to a predictable schedule.
In all, MaineDOT estimates we will need $3.3 billion over the next 10 years to make progress in addressing the backlog of transportation needs – $2.8 billion alone to address critical road and bridge needs. The Maine Better Transportation advocates that the Governor and Maine Legislature rethink how our state prioritizes its transportation investments to ensure that we make progress to address – and eventually – eliminate that backlog of critical repairs and improvements to our transportation system.
That will require revising capital transportation investment goals, adopting a pay-as-you-go policy for basic maintenance such as paving, using bonds for extraordinary transportation needs and enlisting support from the General Fund to help pay down the backlog of repairs.
Highway: Require/revise capital goals.
Highway: Pay for paving with cash, not bonding.
Highway: Use bonds for extraordinary needs.
Highway: Pay down the backlog with General Fund cash and bonds.
All Modes: Increase bond terms.
All Modes: Make tough choices.
Principle 3: Targeting investments to help Maine grow
Transportation investments should be better targeted to promote economic development.
The Maine Better Transportation Association advocates for targeted transportation investments that support safe, efficient transportation options – roads, rail, ports, aviation or transit – and help keep business costs down, attract good employees and attract new businesses.
Maine can provide these essential services to our citizens if we target our transportation investments to strategies that will help our economy grow. For our highway system, we need to modernize and prioritize how we fund urban and rural highway investments. To make freight more cost efficient and promote new business growth, we need to reinvigorate Maine’s Three Port Strategy and continue public-private investment programs including the Industrial Rail Access (IRAP) and Small Harbor Improvement (SHIP) programs.
Highway: Modernize the urban compacts.
Highway: Prioritize investments on arterials, major collectors.
Highway: Use special financing tool for investments that spur economic development.
Highway: Reform Maine’s traffic movement permit law.
Freight/Ports and Rail: Continue the Industrial Rail Access (IRAP) and
Small Harbor Improvement (SHIP) programs.
Freight: Reinvigorate the Three Port Strategy.
Principle 4: Innovating to maximize the value of our investments
Innovative technologies and management structures should be adopted to extend the value of our transportation infrastructure, and to leverage private investment for the public good.
Doing what always has been done or relying on legal frameworks established nearly a century ago will not be enough. The Maine Better Transportation Association advocates that Maine should do all it can to identify, evaluate and implement the most effective innovations – public-private partnership opportunities, tolling portions of the interstate, design/build innovations to save cost and time, enhancing connections for passenger and freight movements.
All Modes: Create a task force to identify public-private partnership (PPP)opportunities.
Highway: Transfer portions of the interstate to the Maine Turnpike Authority.
Highway: Investigate a privately funded east-west highway.
Highway: Promote design/build innovations.
Highway: Act on Simplification Study, if costs can be contained.
Passenger: Encourage easy connections.
Conclusion: Getting there from here
We welcome Maine’s leadership to be a part of the solution and to work with us to help solve these problems. By making hard choices, addressing the backlog of repairs, targeting our transportation investment and taking advantage of innovative technologies and management structures, we can create a modern, user-funded transportation system that will serve Mainers for generations to come.