LePage taps Bernhardt for top transportation post
Choice of department veteran praised by industry leaders
Governor Paul LePage announced his nomination for MaineDOT commissioner on January 24: David Bernhardt, P.E., a 27-year Maine Department of Transportation (MaineDOT) veteran who most recently has served as director of engineering and operations.
In that role, LePage said, Bernhardt has been able to bring about major cost cutting changes within the department, including the consolidation of maintenance facilities and collaboration with New Hampshire to save on road paint, culverts and more. All told, those efforts have brought about an annual savings estimated at $10 million.
“It’s that kind of resourcefulness David has demonstrated that we all need to look to,” said LePage. “Times are tough. If there are ways to be saving money, we need to be doing it. I’m impressed by what David has been able to achieve.”
Maria Fuentes, executive director of the Maine Better Transportation Association (MBTA) said she believed that Maine and its transportation community will benefit by Bernhardt’s leadership of the department: “David Bernhardt will serve Maine’s transportation community well. He will move the governor’s vision for transportation in Maine and will do it with a common sense approach to solving problems. The Maine Better Transportation Association looks forward to working with him.”
Serious about transportation
Bernhardt’s nomination was greeted by many in the industry as a signal the new governor is serious about transportation. He is a 1984 graduate of the University of Maine, with associate and bachelor of science degrees in civil engineering. A registered professional engineer (P.E.), he lives in Vassalboro with his wife Carmen.
Bernhardt joined MaineDOT in 1984 and has held a number of positions in the department and knows its inner workings, as well as the funding challenges that face the department in the coming years. Prior to assuming his position as director of engineering and operations in 2010, he was the director of maintenance and operations for more than four years, and in that position, he led the bureau in many cost-saving and efficiency-gaining initiatives.
Bernhardt has worked to address recurring engineering, technical and operational challenges faced by the department and recommended implementing performance measures based on his engineering and operational experience.
As director of maintenance and operations, he managed 1,400 permanent employees responsible for the delivery of a $145-million-per-year maintenance and betterment program. Previously, he served as the assistant director of project development and regional program manager responsible for the delivery of the department’s capital work plan. Bernhardt also played a key role in developing the Collector Highway Improvement Program (CHIP) and the Rural Road Initiative Program (RRI), improving hundreds of miles of collector highways over a four-year period.
Industry leaders cited Bernhardt’s straightforward, “can-do” attitude and keen problem-solving abilities.
Thomas L. Gorrill, president of Gorrill-Palmer Consulting Engineers said: “Dave brings the perfect balance to the post. He has a thorough knowledge of the department and the state’s infrastructure system as well as an ability to provide fresh approaches to transportation policy and innovative funding alternatives.”
Former MBTA president Scott Leach, northeast regional vice president for the Lane Construction Corporation, also has worked with Bernhardt over the years and he praised the commissioner nominee’s ability to work with others, including those outside of the department. “Dave‘s ability to work with all stakeholders to solve issues efficiently will be a great benefit for the state,” said Leach.
Room for savings?
Press accounts of Bernhardt’s nomination have been favorable, as well, and say that an early order of business for the new commissioner will be working to do more with less. MaineDOT faces a $720 million, two-year funding shortfall, hundreds of bridges aged 50 years or older and in need of repair or replacement and thousands of miles of state highway in need of modernization and repair.
MPBN reports that Governor LePage, House Transportation Chair Representative Richard Cebra (R-Naples) and other Republicans are planning to present Bernhardt with new operational goals that will preclude any new revenues. Cebra told MPBN that Bernhardt is expected to provide the leadership the department needs to get the job done.
For his part, Bernhardt has told MPBN that he believes there’s room for savings at MaineDOT.
“We’ve looked at certain parts of the department, but I think if we look at everything in the administration, look at planning, design and construction and maintenance and, even, the operations of our systems, I think there’s a lot of opportunities there,” Bernhardt said.