Why rail? Why highways and bridges? Transportation infrastructure is a good investment, even in the most challenged economies.
By Thomas H. Martin, Jr.
The Rail Issue
The $23 million question. What to do with 233 miles of soon-to-be-abandoned rail line in northern Maine. By Doug Rooks
Special delivery. There’s keen public interest in Maine’s first comprehensive rail plan. By Kathryn Buxton
Ready and waiting. A $35 million federal grant for the Downeaster will extend service and bring jobs to coastal Maine. By Kathryn Buxton
The jobs bond. The Governor and legislature have plans for a ‘home-grown’ stimulus program.
Questions of transportation. Maria Fuentes talks with Transportation Committee members Rep. Charles Theriault (D-Madawaska), Rep. Kimberley Rosen (R-Bucksport), Rep. Douglas Thomas (R-Ripley).
Maine Snares a TIGER. Maine receives $14 million in stimulus funds for its three deepwater ports.
Maine Motor Transport bids farewell. Trucking advocate Dale Hanington retires.
A growing fan base. MBTA’s campaign to find “The Worst Road in Maine” gains fans across the state.
The business of social change. John Melrose and Maine Tomorrow are helping find solutions to complex problems.
Why rail? Why roads and bridges? Why now?
Rail is the big topic in this issue of Maine Trails, and on these pages, you’ll read about big changes brewing in the state’s passenger and freight rail network. You’ll also read about efforts by state leaders in Augusta to put forward a “jobs bond,” with funding for rail, road and bridge infrastructure as a significant component of a homegrown economic recovery package.
The question is this: Why rail? Why roads and bridges? And why is investment in transportation so very important right now?
The answer is simple: The economy.
Maine and the country are struggling to recover from one of the worst recessions in the nation’s history. Even though we have begun to see some signs that the economy is turning around, the recovery is still a fragile one. Here in Maine, we put our federal stimulus dollars for transportation to work very quickly.
Thanks to MaineDOT’s very timely efforts to get contracts out, Maine was the first state in the country to obligate 100 percent of its American Recovery & Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds for transportation ($137 million), and those dollars did exactly what they were supposed to do. According to a study just released by the American Association of State Highway & Transportation Officials (AASHTO) (see On Ramp, page 13), we’ve completed nearly three-quarters of the 73 transportation projects funded by ARRA, improved nearly 200 miles of highway and rehabilitated or replaced eight bridges.
That was a shot in the arm for Maine’s economy, especially given the absolutely dismal year it would have been for transportation contracts without the ARRA funding. According to AASHTO, ARRA has put Maine people back to work (as many as 3,000 jobs will have been created or supported thanks to these projects). We also have a lot to show for it in improved mobility for Maine citizens (198 miles of road repaired or rehabilitated and eight bridges fixed). Still, construction unemployment in Maine is even higher than the national average of 27 percent. That needs to change.
More jobs in rails and ports
In January and February, the federal government announced grants from two more components of the ARRA funding, high-speed rail and TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery). Maine received an additional $49 million: $35 million to extend passenger service to Freeport and Brunswick and another $14 million of investments in Maine’s three largest ports.
Like highway and bridge projects, investments in ports and rail, can create jobs in the short term – engineering and construction jobs that are needed to establish the new, expanded passenger rail network. The New England Passenger Rail Authority (NNEPRA) estimates 200 Maine jobs will result from the extension of the line. These rail and ports projects also have the “build it and they will come” type of economic benefits – in lower shipping costs for our products and expanded retail and tourism activity. These are tangible returns on investment that will have lasting impacts on Maine’s economy.
The economy is also at the root of another big rail story in Maine, the efforts to save a 233-mile freight rail line in northern Maine. Last year, Montreal Maine & Atlantic announced its intention to abandon the line because it was no longer profitable. The line has a long history of serving the state’s resource based industries, and with the economic downturn, those industries have suffered greatly.
As this magazine was going to print, the Maine Legislature was preparing to debate two proposals for a transportation bond that include between $17 million and $20 million to purchase the MM&A’s northern line. The proposed bonds also set aside $28 million to $47.5 million for highway construction. (One plan includes $9 million for marine transportation.)
As Senate President Libby Mitchell said of the bond package introduced by her and a group of legislative leaders, “In these difficult times, we have to take prudent steps by making investments that get people working.” Governor Baldacci, who presented the second bond proposal, also hopes these infrastructure investments will spur job growth and retention in the state’s economy.
The MBTA board of directors supports a strong transportation bond, the jobs it will create and the economic opportunity it would create for Maine. We will work with the legislature and Governor Baldacci through the negotiation process of coming up with a final bond package. In conclusion, I would like to thank all of the MBTA members who have been so active in recent months on these and other important transportation issues. Several MBTA members have been part of the Technical Advisory Committee for the Maine State Rail Plan. And many more of you have testified before the Transportation Committee and contacted Maine’s Congressional leaders about rail, road and bridge issues during the past few months.
I look forward to seeing many of you at our annual meeting, Thursday, May 20 at the Augusta Civic Center.
The $23 million question
The state grapples with questions surrounding Montreal Maine & Atlantic plans to abandon 233 miles of rail line in northern Maine
By Douglas Rooks
As the current legislative session draws to a close, efforts continue to keep the trains running on the vast central section of the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic (MMA) freight lines. They are “the lifeline for Penobscot and Aroostook counties,” according to Representative Charles “Ken” Theriault (D-Madawaska), who sponsored a $20 million bond issue to permit the state to purchase the tracks.
In February, MMA filed a notice of intent to abandon 233 miles of track, from just north of Millinocket to just south of Madawaska. The reason, said railroad President Bob Grindrod, was not hard to explain. The plunging economy, that disproportionately affected the wood fiber and lumber industries that provide most of MMA’s tonnage, has drastically reduced traffic on these lines, making them unprofitable. In all, the railroad now owns 745 miles of track in Maine, Vermont, New Brunswick and Quebec.
In a recent interview, Grindrod said that the railroad has faced major challenges from its very first month in business in 2003. It completed the purchase of the bankrupt Bangor & Aroostook only to find that one of its major customers, Great Northern Paper, was shutting down both of its mills, in Millinocket and East Millinocket. The East Millinocket mill has since reopened as Katahdin Paper, but the Millinocket plant has run only briefly, despite installing a brand-new paper machine: its owners have cited high energy costs as the reason.
Nonetheless, MMA was able to rebuild volume for a while, until the construction downturn of 2007 started a free-fall in shipments.
From 2003, when the rail lines to be abandoned moved 12,085 carloads, it increased to 15,130 in 2005. But 2008 showed an enormous drop, to 7,905 carloads, and 2009 was even worse – just 5,527 carloads.
Those figures, Grindrod said, count only shipments that originate or terminate on the MMA lines to be abandoned. Counting all shipments that traverse this portion of the system, it moved about 9,000 cars in 2009 – the figure cited in news stories and a recent state feasibility study on the track purchase.
Hearings on a bill requiring that study from the Maine Department of Transportation (LD 1678) and the bond issue (LD 1748) prompted solid turnouts from municipalities and businesses affected by the possible shutdown, amply confirming the “lifeline” point made in the testimony by Representative Theriault.
The Southern Aroostook Development Corporation said the Tate & Lyle plant in Houlton, which converts tapioca and potato starch into ingredients for M&Ms and Splenda, an artificial sweetener, is just a small part of an international company that’s currently seeking to cut costs throughout its system.
Rail service is vital to keeping costs down, said SADC Executive Director Jon McLaughlin, and without it, the plant could close. “The result could be devastating for an area of Maine that has already seen unemployment rates as high as 15.2 percent,” he said.
In nearby New Limerick, the Louisiana-Pacific oriented strand board plant was recently revived for lumber production – “engineered dimensional wood manufacturing” – thanks to a $150 million investment and reconstruction from 2007-08. Unfortunately, the plant reopened during the depths of the construction downturn, and now employs 80 workers, about half of the full-production contingent when it opened.
Plant manager Travis Turner said, “In addition to the excellent employee base and availability of wood, a key part of the business case for investing in Maine was the availability of rail service.” Losing that service for 1,500-2,000 carloads a year, would increase costs by at least 10 percent, he said.
Since the mill is still essentially “in a startup mode,” Turner said, “the next few years are critical to success.” Local benefits included an $8.3 million payroll in 2008.
In Easton, McCain Foods estimated that the end of rail service would increase its costs for producing processed potato products such as French fries by as much as $1 million.
Further north, abandonment would affect a large number of smaller businesses, such as those in the Skyway Industrial Park in Presque Isle and the nearby intermodal center.
Businesses that buy products will be affected, too. Maine Public Service Co., the region’s electric supplier, said it would have to pay $65,000 more for its annual deliveries of utility poles, if delivered by truck instead of rail.
The costs of lost rail service
Bob Grindrod is well aware of the dependence of nearly two dozen major shippers – including such familiar names as Huber, Dead River, Seven Islands and Fraser – on MMA’s freight service.
The MaineDOT-commissioned report, by Railroad Industries, Inc. of Reno, Nevada, calculates economic, safety and environmental costs of abandonment. Those costs include $6.5 million a year for additional fuel costs for trucking and $3.5 million in additional pavement costs. The report estimates 202 accidents will result from increased freight traffic on the roads. Using trucks instead of rail also would add 160 tons of carbon dioxide and 2,800 tons of nitrogen oxide to the atmosphere.
Both the paper and construction businesses are highly cyclical, and they will remain the mainstays of rail traffic, Grindrod said. MMA has moved some new cargo, such as the giant turbine blades used in the state’s new wind farms, but those are usually short-term deals, rather than the steady demand produced for moving pulp, wood chips, lumber and manufactured wood products. Connections involving expansion of port cargo facilities at Searsport would be a big deal for the railroad, but those improvements are years away at best.
Concerning a possible state purchase, while the figures are preliminary, they seem to show that public ownership could produce profitability far sooner than the current management. That’s because the state would not be burdened with MMA’s substantial debt service, nor much of the $1.3 million in state taxes it now pays.
The likely asking price for the 233 miles is about $23 million, about equal to the net salvage value. MMA estimates there’s also about $19 million in deferred maintenance. (The $19 million figure is one derived from standards set by MaineDOT in the TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grant application. It is the cost of restoring the main line between Millinocket and Madawaska to 40 mph and all the branch lines to 25 mph. This would be accomplished over several years.)
Some of the discussion at recent sessions of the Maine Legislature’s Transportation Committee focused on whether the central section of the system is viable on its own, and whether including the line through Madawaska and the Fraser mills would improve it. Fraser, too, has gone through a near-death experience, with the company saying it would close its Maine mill without its 900 employees agreeing to an 8 percent pay cut. The employees agreed to the pay cut.
Grindrod acknowledged that the Madawaska section, with a direct connection to Canada, is one of the most desirable parts of the system, “but that’s why we need to keep it,” he said. “Our aim is to retain the profitable lines, and that’s one of them.”
While the price for the track proposed for abandonment – about $100,000 per mile – might seem modest, coming up with the money will be no easy feat. Purchase of the freight lines was one of a number of Maine projects submitted for a TIGER grant that was part of the federal stimulus package, but it was not funded. (Maine also did not receive a requested $70 million for two bridges spanning the Piscataqua River between Kittery and Portsmouth, New Hampshire, nor funding for the Caribou connector. Yet, it did receive a total of $14 million for projects at the state-owned ports in Portland, Searsport and Eastport.)
Grindrod was not surprised by the application’s lack of success, noting that there were $50 billion in applications for $1.5 billion in grants.
So, without federal help, where will Maine find the money? One strategy legislators have discussed is including the rail purchase in a prospective “jobs bond.” That would parallel a successful effort in 1992, during a previous recession, but no decisions are likely until near the end of the session.
House and Senate Democrats unveiled a “jobs bond” proposal in early March, in which $20 million slated for MMA. Governor Baldacci’s bond proposal included $17 million for the purchase, and Maine’s Senator Susan Collins recently extracted a promise of federal help from U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, as well.
If the state does purchase the lines, it would likely contract with a private operator, such as Maine Eastern Railroad, that offers freight and passenger service on the Rockland Branch that terminates in Brunswick. MMA could be a bidder for that contract.
At the hearing on LD 1748, MaineDOT Commissioner David Cole said that he saw state involvement as far from his first choice, but that the alternative of abandonment was unacceptable.
“It is inconceivable to me that the largest county east of the Mississippi, and whose economy is largely dependent on the movement of natural resources, would be cut off from rail service,” he told the Transportation Committee.
A lobbyist for Irving Woodlands, Jim Mitchell, framed the issue in even larger terms. He said, “This really is a statewide economic development enterprise that has enormous implication for our manufacturing economy and the economy of the state as a whole.”
High turnout signals keen public interest in development of Maine’s first comprehensive rail plan
By Kathryn Buxton
In late january, the engineering firm HNTB Corp. delivered a hefty 200-plus-page document to MaineDOT. It was the firm’s first draft of Maine’s first state rail plan, a transportation document eagerly anticipated by a diverse group.
Business interests are looking to the state to lay out a plan that will help support low-cost rail freight options for Maine manufactured products.
Passenger rail advocates, buoyed by the recent announcement that the Amtrak Downeaster service is to be extended to Freeport and Brunswick, have their sights set on passenger service connecting more Maine cities.
Port and trucking advocates are pushing for a plan that maps out a course for establishing stronger intermodal connections with marine and truck routes.
That kind of broad support and engaged participation is unusual, according to Ray Tomczak, a rail expert who has worked on rail projects in northern New Jersey, New York, Florida, Texas and Pennsylvania. Tomczak, a manager of planning for HNTB in New Jersey, is the lead consultant on Maine’s rail plan project.
“Coming here from New Jersey, what most shocked me was the level of participation. In New Jersey, where you’ve got eight million people, you don’t get 80 to 100 people at a rail meeting,” said Tomczak.
In Maine, he added, there has “been a sense of urgency and excitement” at the public input meetings held throughout the state – excitement for the prospect of passenger rail and urgency for the economic development opportunities that freight rail represents at a time when the state is recovering from a major economic recession.
A state rail plan is required for future federal funding under the multi-year rail funding authorization, thePassenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act (PRIIA) that passed in June 2008 and funds the state’s rail programs through 2011.
That requirement was the impetus for the rail plan, but the high level of public interest can be attributed to events after PRIIA passed. With fluctuating fuel costs, a broader national discussion of energy efficiency and the recession, the idea of passenger and freight rail as an economic development tool has captured the public’s attention.
Part of the rail planning process included two formal sessions with a technical advisory committee, leaders from the transportation, rail and manufacturing industries who provided input for the plan. Gordon Page of Maine Eastern Railroad attended those meetings and describes them as “participatory events” with dozens of business and transportation advocates covering topics from rail crossings to competition with the trucking industry. There were several legislators there, as well, and Page said it was important for everyone there to be a part of the discussion.
“Nobody held anything back. Everyone was very free to express themselves,” said Page.
For Maine Eastern’s part, the scope of the discussions, covering both passenger and freight rail, was very important. “We’re the only active rail operator in the state with both freight and passenger service, and our interest is multifold,” said Page who was joined at the meetings by Gordon Fuller, executive vice president and chief executive officer of the Morristown & Erie Railway, Maine Eastern’s parent company.
Jack Sutton, president of the Maine Rail Group also participated in the advisory committee meetings, and said he believes many positive things have already come from the process. “Having a well-thought-out plan in place and ready will be the foundation of the future of rail in Maine,” said Sutton. He believes that being ready and willing to put federal dollars to work quickly will be a major factor in rail funding in the coming years. States with stronger, more comprehensive plans in place could fare better as federal rail dollars become more competitive. He cites how the work NNEPRA has done over the past several years with municipalities, the rail line owner and Amtrak to lay the groundwork for passenger service north of Portland paid off with the recent high speed rail grant.
“The only thing lacking was the funding mechanism,” a thing Sutton believes made the project appear more viable to the FRA.
Another bonus from the project has been the extensive outreach MaineDOT has done to get more people at the table, talking about rail and the possibilities.
“There has been a great deal more public outreach on this than in the past on rail issues,” said Sutton. “I’m not sure all the interested parties have taken as much advantage of it as they should, but there has been the opportunity.”
Sutton said that in the public meetings, in addition to keen interest in passenger rail, there were businesses expressing a need to strengthen Maine’s rail freight resources, including the expansion of multimodal hubs where shippers can transfer goods from rail to truck and vice versa.
To be competitive, he said, Maine must look beyond its borders to keep abreast of rail developments favoring shippers and receivers elsewhere in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.
“It comes down to attracting and keeping the paying customers that justify competitive rail services, along with the right combinations of private and public investment to support the infrastructure. The future of passenger rail services in Maine depends largely on the presence of a healthy freight rail system. Ultimately, it’s the public’s choice to demand and use rail services, or lose them.”
HNTB’s Tomczak said that emphasis on shipper logistics and the flow of goods between manufacturers and markets will be reflected in the document’s analysis of multimodal opportunities, including links between Maine’s three major ports (Eastport, Searsport and Portland) and its rail system.
Tomczak said the planning process has been served well by the public input, but what comes after the plan is complete will be key. “A lot of folks came up with great ideas and have a ton of knowledge of the system. Everyone is all for preserving and improving rail in Maine,” said Tomczak. “But the number one thing is the funding and finding people to spread the word and spend more time to help the governor and the legislature to educate the public and come up with ways to fund the vision.”
The first draft of the plan currently is under review at MaineDOT. Nate Moulton, rail plan project manager, said he expects to have a draft to share with the advisory committee sometime in March, and the report to be ready for the final round of public comment in April.
One of the challenges to completing the document is that “changes have overtaken us. . . the earth has shifted,” Moulton said, referring to the news of Montreal, Maine & Atlantic’s plan to abandon 233 miles of track in northern Maine line, the Downeaster’s $35 million high speed rail grant and the announcement of the TIGER grants – much of the funding went to freight rail and corridor projects in other parts of the country. “There are a ton of moving pieces to this and so many pieces have ramifications for so many different potential rail users,” said Moulton.
The plan, too, has grown in scope. MaineDOT has requested additional research and interviews be included. The department hopes to have more input from individual shippers, and further information on condition and levels of service on some of the privately held rail lines. Moulton said the state also has asked HNTB to identify how Maine’s rail network can be developed to best feed into regional “critical rail corridors.” “It doesn’t help if there are bottlenecks downstream or upstream,” said Tomczak.
With the additions to the plan, Tomczak expects the final Maine State Rail Plan to swell to between 450 and 550 pages. “It’s going to be very comprehensive. It’s chock full of information,” said Tomczak. Still, both he and Moulton caution Maine’s rail and shipper communities to think of the final plan as “a work in progress.”
“You have to keep in mind this is not the be all and end all, it’s just a starting point,” said Tomczak.
Ready and waiting
High speed rail grant comes after years of preparation and advocacy
By Kathryn Buxton
The announcement in late January that Maine is to receive $35 million in federal stimulus dollars to extend the Downeaster Amtrak service to Freeport and Brunswick couldn’t have been more welcome. Maine rail advocates have been pushing to have the passenger service extended since before the Downeaster made its first run between Boston and Portland in February 2009.
That is why it is little surprise that the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority (NNEPRA) and Pan Am Railways immediately announced plans to begin track improvements as soon as the weather permits. Pan Am, which owns the line the expanded passenger service will operate on, will receive the bulk of the funding which it will use to replace the 1930s-era rails and upgrade 36 crossings on the 30-mile route between Portland and Brunswick.
The $35 million grant from the Federal Rail Authority (FRA) is part of $8 billion set aside for high speed rail projects in the American Reinvestment & Recovery Act (ARRA) signed into law in February 2009.
“We are ready to go,” Pan Am President David Fink told a crowd assembled at a press conference announcing the grant. He noted that the work replacing the old rails will begin in Brunswick and proceed south toward Portland. Fink said he expected the work to take place over the 2010 and 2011 construction seasons, given the materials – including approximately 24,000 ties – are readily available. Fink also stated that Pan Am intends to continue operating freight service on the line.
In addition to upgrades that will smooth the ride and reduce maintenance on the line, the grant includes funding for construction of a passenger platform in Freeport, located near Bow Street and Depot Road. There also will be some additional drainage work to complete on the route. Both the drainage and platform contracts will be managed by either MaineDOT or NNEPRA, according NNEPRA Executive Director Patricia Quinn.
The net result of the FRA grant will be 200 railroad, construction and manufacturing jobs created as a direct result of the line’s extension and are central to the intent of the ARRA legislation.
“That’s people not working now that will be called to work,” said Quinn. “Then they can pay their bills and put gas in their cars and get haircuts. I think that is going to be significant.”
There also promises to be jobs created in Brunswick, where the town and Bowdoin College already have invested $11 million in a new train station and retail complex via a 2007 joint development agreement with JHR Development of Massachusetts. The development eventually calls for 106,000 square feet of mixed-use space in six buildings on a former brownfield site in downtown Brunswick near the college.
The first phase of the development, two buildings that house the station, a bookstore, two restaurants and a dance studio, was completed in 2009. The announcement of the federal grant has been echoed by news that JHR Development is set to break ground on phase two of the commercial development centered around the station. Those plans include construction of a 54-room inn, according to Mike Lyne of JHR Development, with plans to open in spring 2011.
“Getting good news about the Downeaster certainly helps,” said Lyne who called the train a key “economic driver for the project and for downtown Brunswick.”
The reconditioning of the line is expected to be complete and service between Brunswick and Portland is set to begin in 2012. Plans are for two to three round trips between Portland and Brunswick with hopes to add more. Officials expect the service to initially focus on tourism travelers, not commuters.
Meanwhile, NNEPRA’s Quinn said that everyone is ready and waiting to get to work. Quinn said that NNEPRA has invested approximately $100,000 already for engineeering. The biggest hurdle has been the heavy snows that paralyzed Washington, D.C. during early February. With federal offices closed due to the weather, it has been difficult to get grant details from the FRA.
“There have been so many starts and stops,” said Quinn. “This is going to be a great service and the long-term benefits are going to far exceed our expectations.”
Will Maine get a ‘jobs bond’?
The question is: Can the governor and legislature agree on a transportation bond package before the legislature adjourns?
Two bond proposals have been making the rounds in Augusta during the past couple of weeks: a $99 million “Jobs Bond” proposal by a group of Democratic legislators and Governor Baldacci’s $79 million bond package that the governor says will “put people back to work.”
If a bond proposal can be hashed out in the weeks leading up to the legislative adjournment in April, it will go before voters on June 8.
Both borrowing plans come out of recent news that state revenue projections are somewhat rosier than they were thought to be in late 2009, making borrowing a more attractive way to deal with pressing infrastructure needs.
Both bonds also have strong transportation components (they include funding for energy and water safety projects, as well). The one proposed by Democratic legislative leaders calls for $72.5 million in transportation funding. The governor’s proposal includes $62 million that covers some of the same spending categories as the legislative proposal but also adds $9 million for marine transportation.
The two borrowing plans are being sold as home-grown economic stimulus plans, investments that will create and support Maine jobs as the state continues its slow recovery from the recession.
Senate President Libby Mitchell, who led the charge on the legislative proposal made public on March 2, called her group’s proposal “a timely and targeted jobs package that will make key investments in our infrastructure and keep Maine people working.”
Governor Baldacci presented his plan to news reporters at his office on March 10: “This is not a laundry list of ideas. Instead, it’s focused on investments to build Maine’s economic capacity into the future while creating jobs today,” he said during that meeting. His office said his bond plan would create or support nearly 1,900 jobs for Mainers.
While the emphasis on jobs could prove an effective strategy for selling a bond proposal to legislators – and eventually to Maine voters – the effort has far broader implications for Maine.
“Jobs are important, but the issues are even deeper than the much needed jobs these measures would support. It’s about long-term economic viability and safety,” said Senator Dennis Damon (D-Hancock), co-chair of the Maine Legislature’s Transportation Committee.
“We have families and businesses that depend on roads that are crumbling before our very eyes. And we have a critical freight rail link that we could lose forever, and that is putting the entire northern Maine economy at risk. Maine has the revenues to support these infrastructure investments, and we cannot afford to wait,” said Damon.
Highway funding is a big component in both proposals. The governor’s bond would include $28 million for highway reconstruction and repair, plus an additional $3 million in matching funds for municipal road projects. The Democratic leadership’s proposal is stronger in this category, calling for $47.5 million for highway reconstruction and maintenance.
There is also rail investment in the two proposals. Governor Baldacci’s proposal sets aside $17 million for the purchase of 233 miles of rail line in northern Maine that Montreal Maine & Atlantic (MMA) plans to abandon, plus another $5 million for freight and passenger rail improvements to serve the Lewiston-Auburn region. The legislative proposal includes $20 million for the MMA line and matches the governor’s proposal for the Lewiston-Auburn rail projects.
The proposals also diverge on spending for marine transportation. The governor’s proposal includes $1 million in funding for SHIP (Small Harbors Improvement Program) matching grants and another $8 million for construction of the Ocean Gateway “mega berth” in Portland. The legislative proposal does not tag any money for marine investments.
The question is this: Can the governor and legislature agree on a transportation bond package before the legislature adjourns in April?
The sticking point will be, of course, legislative passage. While the bill has a strong following among Senate and House Democrats, Republican votes will be needed to get the two-thirds needed for passage.
Some Republican legislators have shown their willingness to listen, and one has come out in support of the bond. Senator Roger Sherman (R-Aroostook) was the only Republican on record supporting the legislative bond proposal (the MMA rail line purchase would support businesses in his region).
Other Republicans have been more reluctant. Senate Minority Leader Kevin Raye (R-Washington) said the size of the bond in both packages concerns him. “I think it’s still too large,” Raye told the Portland Press Herald after announcement of the governor’s smaller bond proposal. “It’s a step in the right direction. There’s significant concern among Republicans in the Legislature about our capacity for borrowing.”
Questions of transportation
MBTA’s Maria Fuentes talks with Representatives Kimberley Rosen, Charles “Ken” Theriault and Douglas A. Thomas about the federal stimulus, a possible federal jobs bill, priorities for the next governor and Maine’s transportation challenges.
Do you think Maine saw real benefits from the federal stimulus package? Why or why not?
Representative Rosen: Yes, Maine saw benefits from the stimulus package, as evidenced by the paving and improvements on I-295. What was disappointing was the percentage of the stimulus money going to transportation infrastructure was less than seven percent. We should have received more money for construction, because we have plenty of shovel-ready projects and the state could have used a larger percentage of money that came to Maine for projects that create jobs.
Representative Theriault: Yes. The projects completed with the ARRA funding were “shovel ready” and had already gone through permitting, which meant they did put people to work and helped businesses, while improving sections of our infrastructure that were clearly in need of repair. The only problem was that everyone wanted the funds to be used in their area, since so much help is needed all over the state.
Representative Thomas: Not as much as we should have. The way that bill was structured and rushed through, we ended up putting out too many big projects as opposed to more small projects that would have been scattered throughout the state. If we had done that, it would have benefitted more people and more regions of the state.
What about Maine’s transportation infrastructure has hurt the state’s economy? What has helped the economy?
Rep. Rosen: An exciting recent innovation that came from Maine is the new technology for “bridge in a backpack” developed by Dr. Habib Dagher at the University of Maine. On the negative side, the absence of an east-west highway has hurt our economy.
Rep. Theriault: Our transportation infrastructure has hurt the economy in this way: we are not fixing or upgrading areas that are in dire straits. In terms of help, we are experiencing very little help to the economy at this time. Much more needs to be done. Having a north-south railroad has helped the economy, but it will be devastating if part of the system is abandoned.
Not having a north-south highway has hurt our economy.
Rep. Thomas: It has hurt our economy that we don’t have good freight rail service. If we had a main line rail company that provided reliable service, it would significantly improve our freight opportunities, which would improve our economy.
Increasing the weight for trucks on the interstate to 100,000 pounds is a huge help to our state – bigger than anybody knows yet.
What is the most critical transportation need facing the state and people in your district?
Rep. Rosen: Safety should be the top priority in terms of transportation for the state. We have a lot of two-lane rural roads with no shoulders, and national studies show that there are far more accidents on narrower, rural roads. Another critical need is maintaining and improving our highway system. In my district, there are many issues: the deteriorating condition of major roads such as Route 15 and Route 46 pose a challenge and are a safety issue. Posted roads are a huge economic obstacle every spring, and it is a challenge to get our major roads ready for heavy truck traffic. Other needs include dock capacity for small commercial ships, and we also need more reliable freight rail service.
Rep. Theriault: The most critical need is finding the proper funding mechanism to insure a continuity of service to our infrastructure. Our shippers rely on the rail line that is now at risk. If we lose our rail system, and don’t have a highway up north, where does that leave us? Going to Canada would be the only route.
Citizens in my district are in need of a highway that will get them to their destinations without having to go through areas that limit their speed to 35 miles per hour. This affects people from Houlton on up. We are also in need of a rail network. We need both.
Rep. Thomas: The most critical need in the state and to my constituents is the same: the neglect of our secondary road system. We haven’t done the proper maintenance to those roads and many have gone over their useful life; others are close. Our neglect is costing us and it is going to come back to bite us.
The CanAm Connections study discusses transportation infrastructure in the Northeast border corridor and its effects on economic development. What steps do you think Maine should take to remove the barriers to global trade opportunities?
Rep. Rosen: In the short term, we have to ensure that there is rail service up north between Millinocket and Madawaska. We need to promote business in northern Maine and my hope is that a private investor will step up.
Beyond that, we need to have more efficient use of existing funds and revenues and improve highway, rail and port service so that we can be a player in global trade. Sears Island is a critical component of that vision, as well as smaller ports, such as the port of Bucksport.
Rep. Theriault: The major player in the Can Am Connection is possibly a cargo port in Searsport and the development of a north-south highway. The marine ports, along with good roads and rail service to the islands of port would put us strategically where we need to be to maximize on the opportunities of global trade.
Rep. Thomas: The first: we should build an east-west highway – a corridor that allows Canadian trucks to travel through Maine subject to Canadian weight laws – and allow Maine trucks to do the same. Many of our products go to and come from Canada. Why not allow those trucks bringing or delivering products to travel through the corridor and have one set of rules govern them?
What significant transportation initiative or legislation do you hope passes this session?
Rep. Rosen: The Supplemental Highway Budget will be the most important piece of transportation legislation this session.
Rep. Theriault: The legislation that is most important to my area this session is to maintain the rail service from Millinocket to Madawaska. We did not receive the (federal) TIGER grant money we had applied for, so we must therefore find a way to maintain the rails at this time. I have put in a bill for a $20 million bond for the rail, but I am open to other solutions as well.
Rep. Thomas: This session is going to be focused on balancing the budget, and that will take all the air out of the room. I don’t see any significant transportation legislation coming out of this session. There were some good bills proposed, but they were not let in by the Legislative Council. I would like to see more of a focus on looking at the relationship between local communities and the state.
Congress is talking about a jobs program, and the president suggested that he may consider $50 billion for infrastructure. Do you support a jobs bill in Congress?
Rep. Rosen: I do support the jobs bill that Senators Snowe and Collins supported in the U.S. Senate.
Rep. Theriault: I do support a jobs bill with the hopes that the state of Maine could benefit by putting people to work and repairing our infrastructure throughout the state. We also need a “jobs bond” at the state level.
Rep. Thomas: No, I don’t support it, in part because we cannot afford it. We would have to borrow money.
What should the next governor’s highest priority be in terms of transportation policy?
Rep. Rosen: The new governor must bring some fresh thinking to the ongoing funding issue. We have many transportation challenges and we need a new vision for transportation.
Rep. Theriault: The next governor’s highest priority with respect to transportation would be to ensure that a mechanism for funding the transportation budget with new sources gets adopted. This is absolutely critical.
Rep. Thomas: The next governor should focus on addressing our lack of maintenance of secondary roads.
What is the most common constituent complaint you hear about transportation?
Rep. Rosen: I hear a lot about the condition of Route 46 and Route 15. There are potholes, frost heaves, and deteriorating and dangerous conditions. Like I said earlier, the most important priority should be public safety. On some roads, it is as simple as having the yellow center lines, but for other roads, the dilemma is much more challenging.
Rep. Theriault: The most common constituent complaint I hear is that citizens from the north don’t get the attention others get when it comes to our roads.
Rep. Thomas: The most frequent complaint I hear is about MaineDOT crews sitting around too much.
Have your transportation and commuting habits changed in the last year?
Rep. Rosen: Since the gas prices have gone back down, I have been driving more miles.
Rep. Theriault: My transportation habits haven’t changed – they are the same as always. In our area, one must travel longer distances than most other people in the state for services, etc. With gas prices being 20- to 25-cents higher in Aroostook County, it is difficult, but it is the reality we live with.
Rep. Thomas: No, I needed a car to go out and get groceries before the recession, and I still need a car now. My habits haven’t changed at all.
What is the worst and best road you frequently travel on?
Rep. Rosen: The worst roads are the posted roads on our minor collector system. The best road is the interstate.
Rep. Theriault: The best road I travel on is I-95. The worst section of road I travel on is U.S. Route 1 from Madawaska to Van Buren.
Rep. Thomas: The best road is I-95. I can’t pick the worst road because there are just so many of them.
Maine snares a TIGER
Maine ports get $14 million in recovery funding
A federal tiger grant of $14 million will go to help Maine’s three ports diversify their customer base, Governor John Baldacci announced in mid-February. “These grants will enable Maine ports to make vital improvements that will help Maine businesses be more competitive,” said Baldacci in a news release announcing the grant.
The TIGER grant (TIGER stands for Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) was a fraction of the $89.7 million Maine had requested in two TIGER grant proposals. In addition to diversifying the customer base of Maine’s three major deepwater ports, Baldacci said, the ports will be able to improve their ability to handle green technology, such as wind turbine components.
“Whether it’s shipping forest products or new wind turbine components, we’ll need increased port capacity to move Maine’s economy forward,” said U.S. Representative Mike Michaud at the announcement.
“These investments will create jobs for Mainers in the short term through port improvement work and in the long term by ensuring that our businesses have the infrastructure to ship our products around the world.
Portland will receive $5 million for the International Marine Terminal in Portland for capacity and infrastructure improvements. The funding will help improve access to the pier and also improve cargo-handling capability.
Searsport will receive $7 million for new equipment, including a heavy-lift mobile harbor crane and cargo-handling equipment.
Eastport is to receive $2 million in federal funds for a warehouse, automated conveyer equipment and a five-acre storage pad. The $2 million in TIGER funds will be paired with $4.5 million in transportation bond funds approved last November to help the port diversify, said Chris Gardner, director of the Eastport Port Authority, who said the bulk market depends on an automated system and storage.
“We have never had this,” Gardner told the New Brunswick Business Journal. “Eastport has always handled ‘break bulk’ cargo.” Eastport hopes to attract bulk cargo customer shipping freight such as salt and wood pellets.
“Those markets also depend on deep water,” Gardner added. “Eastport has the greatest natural depth of water of any port on the East Coast of the United States and, as the easternmost port in the United States, is significantly closer to Europe.”
Competition for the TIGER grants was heavy and Maine’s congressional delegation lobbied hard for the grant money. In all, states submitted $57 billion worth of proposals for only $1.5 billion in grants from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
“Given that our great nation is recovering from the deepest recession since World War II, this funding is a step forward that will assist in the expansion and rehabilitation of these vital ports,” Senators Snowe and Collins said in a joint statement. “Investing in Maine’s ports will help our state rehabilitate its economy, create jobs, and provide Maine businesses with modern port facilities.”
Some port advocates expressed disappointment that Maine did not receive a larger piece of the TIGER pie. In Portland, local officials vowed to continue to seek federal funds for a second cruise ship “mega berth.”
“We’re disappointed,” Nicole Clegg, the city’s spokeswoman told MaineBiz. She said the city needs the second berth because cruise ship traffic is expected to continue to increase. Last year, 48 cruise ships brought 70,000 visitors to the city. In 2010, 71 cruise ships and 80,000 visitors are expected to call on the port.
Portland officials have said that it was unlikely, given the city’s current budget constraints, that the city would be able to finance the project on its own. There still is hope, according to Senator Collins, who told local news reporters that the mega berth project could be funded when the next round of TIGER grants are announced.
Maine Motor bids farewell – and thanks – to Hanington
Dale Hanington recently retired after two decades at the head of the Maine Motor Transport Association (MMTA). His many contributions to the organization and to the transportation industry were honored at a farewell celebration December 15 in Augusta.
Over the years, Hanington has earned the respect of many in the industry, and the event was packed with well-wishers, despite his request for a modest event with only a few of his closest friends.
“Anyone who has been paying attention to the MMTA over the past 20 years knows what Dale has meant to the trucking industry,” said MMTA Chairman John Lightbody when Hanington’s retirement was announced. “He has fought for safety, for economic prosperity and for reasonable regulations in Washington and in Maine.”
Brian Parke, who for many years was Hanington’s second-in-command, delivered a rousing send-off for his former boss, saying “Dale has touched our lives either professionally, personally, or in my case, both. . . he epitomizes the words ‘integrity,’ ‘honesty’ and ‘leadership.’”
He jokingly referred Hanington as a “special-interest trucking lobbyist” – a label that Hanington was happy to wear, even when some people used it in derogatory terms. Parke said Hanington has been “only too proud to represent truckers and the people that are employed in our ‘special interest’ industry.”
Parke told the audience that Hanington loved the trucking industry because he “loves the fact it is one of the most important components to economic prosperity.” He also said Dale loved MMTA members for their concern with highway and workplace safety. But mostly he simply loved the people he met and represented in the industry.
Many of Maine’s top leaders in government and industry were on hand to praise Dale’s accomplishments. Many of those who couldn’t attend the send-off, sent words of thanks and congratulations.
U.S. Senator Susan Collins sent a video message to recognize his retirement and his accomplishments, in particular, his decades-long work on the truck weight pilot program to increase weight limits on Maine’s interstate system. After many years of active lobbying by MMTA and other leading individuals and business organizations, the pilot program was included in the 2010 budget authorization and signed by President Obama in late December.
Governor Baldacci’s office also sent words of congratulations. Those in attendance included Senator Kevin Raye (R-Washington County) and Senator Jonathan Courtney (R-York County), and Maine Turnpike Authority Executive Director Paul Violette. Violette worked closely with Hanington on the Turnpike Widening project and on establishing the Turnpike’s commercial discount toll program. The MTA is current working with the MMTA on a truck stop electrification project, as well as expansion of parking facilities at the West Gardiner service plaza.
Friends and well-wishers also took the chance to congratulate Hanington on his recent national honor. Hanington received the American Trucking Association’s 2009 Leadership Award for his tireless efforts to promote the interests of the trucking industry on a state and national level. “I’ve known and worked with Dale for nearly two decades,” said Jim Runk, chair of the Trucking Association Executives Council when he announced Hanington as the award recipient in November. “He has always been a strong advocate for the trucking industry and a staunch supporter of the ATA federation.”
Hanington is being succeeded by Brian Parke as MMTA’s president and CEO. Parke has served as the MMTA’s vice president since 2006 and brings 14 years of experience with the association’s self-insured Workers’ Compensation Trust program in both loss prevention and as the trust administrator.
FMI: For more information about the MMTA, visit www.mmta.com
The business of social change
In public life and private business, John Melrose and Maine Tomorrow have helped the state and communities find solutions for complex problems
Each year in january, the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce (KVCC) fills the auditorium of the Augusta Civic Center to celebrate and recognize distinguished individuals and businesses. One of this year’s KVCC awards recipients happens to be a long-standing member and supporter of the Maine Better Transportation Association (MBTA). Maine Tomorrow and its president, John Melrose, were honored with the chamber’s President’s Award for the company’s work in the Kennebec Valley Region and throughout the state of Maine.
Maine Tomorrow was founded in 1982 by John and another MBTA stalwart, former Transportation Commissioner Roger Mallar. John assumed Roger’s interest in the company in 1983, and he and his wife, Molly, have owned and operated it since, with the exception of a period between 1995 and 2002, when John joined then-governor Angus King’s cabinet as Commissioner of the Maine Department of Transportation. During that time, Christine Burke owned and directed Maine Tomorrow.
Maine Tomorrow is a for-profit consulting firm doing public policy research, policy formulation, consensus building, communications, advocacy and governmental affairs for groups including the Maine Better Transportation Association and the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition and for such companies as Concord Coach Lines. Maine Tomorrow serves as an advisor to Leaders Encouraging Aroostook Development (LEAD) on its efforts to enhance north-south transportation connections.
“John has an amazing capacity to find elegant, practical solutions to the most complex problems,” said Maria Fuentes, MBTA executive director, who has worked with Melrose and Maine Tomorrow for many years on transportation issues. “He understands not only how government works, but what works for communities and for businesses and he knows how to bring all of those elements together.”
John Duncan, director of the Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System (PACTS), has worked with Melrose and Maine Tomorrow on several projects and said that John’s experience and energy have a way of bringing people together. “He certainly is a creative thinker, and he generates ideas quite quickly and gets people thinking. When he puts an idea forward, people listen.”
Maine Tomorrow is also active in community development, primarily providing support to private and non-profit interests. A notable initiative in the Kennebec Valley involves work for the Augusta Board of Trade, the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce, MaineGeneral Health and others to improve access to I-95 in northern Augusta at exits 112 and 113. The goal of the project is to accommodate two million square feet of proposed development, plus a new medical center. Melrose’s company participated in another local development initiative, the Augusta Crossing retail center for New England Development.
Association management is the third strength of the Maine Tomorrow team, with clients ranging from the Maine Grocers Association and the American Council of Engineering Companies of Maine to the Kennebec Valley Tourism Council and the Maine Apartment Owners and Managers Association. With the support of the Maine Technology Institute and the Maine Manufacturing Extension Partnership, Maine Tomorrow has been on the ground floor helping to establish the Maine Food Producers Alliance to support Maine’s emerging value-added food products businesses.
The Maine Tomorrow staff includes John as president and his wife, Molly, as business manager and overseer of the firm’s beautiful office building in historic, downtown Hallowell on the Kennebec River. Rick McCarthy is vice president for governmental affairs; Shelley Doak is vice president for association management; Paul Lariviere and Valerie Geredien are senior associates with Tanya Bentley and Amie Coffin as staff associates. Since its inception, Maine Tomorrow has employed more than 50 people. Many of the company’s employees past and present gathered to celebrate at the chamber’s awards event.
In accepting the President’s Award, John noted his belief that the power of business to bring about social change, good or bad, rivals that of both the public and non profit sectors. “Gary Hirshberg, founder of Stonyfield Farm, makes the case in his recent book Stirring It Up that business has the greatest capacity to bring about social change,” Melrose said. “Maine Tomorrow is unusual and fun in that it is a business in the business of social change planted firmly and operating with ease within the public, private and nonprofit sectors.” The history of the close relationship between MBTA and Maine Tomorrow over the life of this company serves well to illustrate these points.
John’s work with MBTA actually goes back to the mid-1970’s when he lobbied for the Maine Municipal Association on transportation matters. Since forming Maine Tomorrow, he has been front and center for MBTA on efforts to raise transportation revenues and send bond issues to the voters. Twice John has been honored by MBTA, ASCE and MaineDOT as a recipient of the association’s Max Wilder Award for his outstanding presentations at the annual Maine Transportation Conference. He has authored key publications for the Association including Losing Ground: A Report on the State of Maine’s Highway Fund and Can We Coast Much Longer?: The Case for Transportation Finance Reform. The latter publication served to introduce one of MBTA’s most significant legislative efforts, the passage of LD 1790: “An Act to Secure Maine’s Transportation Future,” 2008 legislation spearheaded by Senator Dennis Damon (D-Hancock) that sets priorities and establishes new means of transportation funding.
John Melrose says Maine Tomorrow loves to solve problems whether in business and community development, public policy, or in management. “When all of the problems are solved,” Melrose states, “we will be out of business, but until then we can count on many more years of operation as a change agent striving to contribute positively to make tomorrow a better day for Maine”.