What’s on their minds
Transportation Committee members Kimberley Rosen and George Hogan offer MBTA’s Maria Fuentes their thoughts about the MaineDOT Work Plan, user fees, bridges and ‘The Worst Road in Maine’
Maine Trails: The Highway Fund budget recently enacted by the Maine Legislature has $230 million less in funding for capital highway and bridge projects. Do you support continuing to reduce the amount of funding available for capital highway and bridge projects?
Representative George Hogan: No. Either folks should take the transportation system serious or they shouldn’t. The fact of the matter is, if legislators don’t want to support our highway system, the end result could be disastrous. On the committee, over many years we have tried a number of times to increase the revenues going into the Highway Fund. This session, many of them were taken away, including indexing and others. I am at a loss as to how we are going to fund transportation if we don’t come up with the money.
Representative Kimberley Rosen: No, I am not in favor of reducing funding. Sometimes we have to make difficult decisions, but I don’t think further reductions are the answer.
Maine Trails: Most states provide General Fund support for transportation investments – in fact at a national average of 17.65 percent of the total General Fund budget. In Maine, there is no consistent commitment of General Fund monies to support transportation infrastructure, despite the large role transportation plays in the economy and its impacts on things like sales and income tax revenues. Do you think that should change?
Rep. Hogan: Absolutely. I know that in the 80s, the percentage of monies from state revenues coming into the highways was 26 percent and now it is closer to 10 percent. As of late, we are trying to maintain what we have but forget about any effort to repair, reconstruct, and really fix things. Today, there is no highway reconstruction to speak of. At this critical time in our economy, jobs are the major issue. What better way to put people to work than through this effort?
Rep. Rosen: Yes, I do support a consistent commitment of General Fund dollars going to highways. It is clear that the transportation sector generates substantial revenues for the General Fund, and part of that should come back to maintain our system that every citizen of the state depends on.
Maine Trails: The last few work plans have been partially funded by general obligation bonds and GARVEE bonds, but this work plan has neither. Do you support passage of a transportation bond in the next session to make critical capital improvements to highways, bridges and other modes? What about a GARVEE bond for highways and bridges?
Rep. Hogan: Obviously, I do support general obligation bonds and I also support GARVEE bonding for long-term, capital improvements. It is unfortunate we couldn’t get a bond passed last session; that was an extension of the governor’s philosophy. The fact of the matter is, if you have a leak in your roof and don’t have money to fix it, do you go out and borrow money or do you allow the roof to damage the rest of the house? Obviously you fix it and we need to do the same thing with our aging system. We are a rural state and the people depend on roads and bridges. It is irresponsible not to keep them safe for the traveling public. I am hopeful we are able to pass a bond in the upcoming session. We don’t want this era to be a legacy of destruction for our transportation network.
Rep. Rosen: Yes, I do support general obligation bonds and GARVEE bonds for long-term, capital improvement projects.
Maine Trails: Public investment in infrastructure has been a way to jumpstart the economy during difficult economic times in the past. Do you think that model still works today?
Rep. Hogan: Yes, I do. It should work. We need to put people back to work.
Rep. Rosen: It is clear now that the economy needs much more than a jump start. We have too many people who are out of work, and our economy is really hurting. I am supportive of infrastructure spending that provides long-term benefits. Having said that, I certainly don’t support bridges to nowhere, or spending that only generates short-term benefits. We need to invest strategically
Maine Trails: Knowing we have to set priorities on where to spend our limited transportation dollars, where are the best places to spend those limited dollars?
Rep. Hogan: There are so many areas of need, but bridges have to be the number one priority and I guess we should start right down there in Kittery. The washouts after the hurricane should have been a wakeup call that we need to get our bridges up to date. I don’t know what kind of emergency money we will be getting, but if we have many more natural disasters, we should be concerned that bridges will be falling down, because many of them are not built to modern standards.
Rep. Rosen: That is a tough one, because we live in a dynamic world, and sometimes we have to change priorities. For instance, if we have a hurricane or other disaster, we need to be sure the bridges impacted are fixed immediately. Sometimes we have to change our priorities, based on our needs, but bridges are always an important investment.
Maine Trails: Maine was recently ranked 12th worst in the nation for the condition
of our bridges. Do you think finding a way to fix our bridges should be one of
Rep. Hogan: Absolutely. We have bridges that need to be replaced or rehabbed throughout the entire state, from Fort Kent to Kittery.
Rep. Rosen: Yes, bridges connect our communities and are a gateway for commerce, so it is obvious we should be fixing those bridges that need to be rehabbed or replaced.
Maine Trails: If you could request the federal government to fund one transportation project in Maine, what project would that be?
Rep. Hogan: Definitely the Kittery bridges. Our entire state and region depends on those bridges for commerce, tourism, and it is critical we take care of those.
Rep. Rosen: That one is so hard because there are so many needs. My first instinct is to make all our bridges safe, but I can’t point to one bridge. I think we should ensure that every bridge is safe, because that is what the citizens expect and deserve.
Maine Trails: The gas tax was originally designed as a direct user fee, but has lost a lot of its buying power in the past 30 years. Do you think user fees are a good way to fund transportation? If so, what kinds of user fees would you support?
Rep. Hogan: We need to take a comprehensive look at the situation. I can’t say that user fees are the only answer. We need a comprehensive look and user fees may be part of a solution, but we may need other solutions as well.
Rep. Rosen: Generally my answer would be no, because funding our transportation should come from the broad general taxation. Even if you don’t use a particular road, they benefit everyone, because companies like Hannaford and so many others need safe roads and bridges to get their products to market. Without a decent transportation system, we cannot improve our economy.
Maine Trails: Rail is seen as an effective way to move freight – and people. Do
you think Maine should be finding ways to increase investment in this mode
Rep. Hogan: The Downeaster is important as it connects our communities and has been good for the state. I support it. We do have to be careful about increasing the subsidy, however, because we don’t want it to cost the taxpayers too much. So yes, we need to invest, but it should be done strategically.
Rep. Rosen: I believe that our current levels of investment are sufficient at this time, given our lack of resources.
Maine Trails: What is your biggest priority for the next session of the Legislature’s Transportation Committee? In your opinion, what was the most important achievement by the committee this year?
Rep. Hogan: There are two areas: obviously, solidifying the finances for the Kittery bridges and for bridges throughout the state, is one, but we also need to get on track for new bonding so that we can provide jobs and get some of the backlog filled. We are going to fall so far behind – again, we talk too much about maintenance, but we don’t deal with the big issue, which is the highway reconstruction program. Those are the projects that make our roads safe for our families and communities. I don’t feel great having my legacy be that we didn’t address the problem, and we left it to the next group of legislators.
We passed some important safety measures like banning texting while driving. We should have done it years ago – but legislators weren’t ready for that when I put in a bill. But it is good that we did it now.
Rep. Rosen: The biggest achievement was getting a unanimous vote for the Highway Fund budget. In terms of a priority, as a committee, we all need to continue to work together to come up with a funding formula to make all our roads passable. I supported, along with many other committee members, having more money from the General Fund go to highways so we will continue working to that end.
Maine Trails: We have an annual contest called “The Worst Road in Maine.” If you were entering this contest, which road would you choose to enter? Why is it so bad?
Rep. Hogan: I am fortunate because the roads I travel on daily aren’t horrendous, so it would be hard to pick one but I do know that in the rest of the state, there are roads that are undriveable, and we can’t expect people to continue to fork over so much money in car repairs because we can’t figure out how to fix our roads.
Rep. Rosen: The two roads that I would have entered in the spring are now in good shape, due to maintenance surface treatment paving. The road to Castine and Route 46 are very good to drive on now. The road to Castine has been skinny-mixed, and Route 46 has been as well, but we have a commitment from MaineDOT to have Route 46 repaired as well. I worked with the town and Commissioner Bernhardt to get Route 46 repaired and we are very happy that they have agreed. So both roads I would have nominated are in good shape now.