No way to run a transportation system. Crisis management is not an efficient way to run a transportation system. By Deborah Dunlap Avasthi
10 for ‘10. MBTA looks at the top transportation stories of the past year. By Rick Ackermann
Who’s on the committee? What’s on the docket? A look at what’s ahead for the Transportation Committee in the 125th session. By John Melrose
LePage taps Bernhardt for top transportation post. MaineDOT veteran is nominee for Transportation Commissioner.
Funding, sustainability, transit. PACTS briefing brings up key issues for legislature, region.
The more things change. Maine Transportation Conference celebrates 60 years and looks ahead to change.
Border meeting, holiday greetings. Holiday meeting focuses on border economy, scholarship recipients.
Let it snow, let it snow. Maine cities and towns gain edge and cut costs in the perennial fight against snow and ice. By Kathryn Buxton
MaineDOT snowfighters. Keeping Maine open for business. By Dale Doughty
No way to run a transportation system
By Deborah Dunlap Avasthi
President, Maine Better Transportation
If you were tasked with figuring out how to run a transportation system, chances are you would not build it around crisis management.
You would build it knowing that crisis management is a worst-case situation, a place you prepare for, hoping not to go there. Moreover, if you discovered you were spending a significant amount of time in crisis management mode, you might think it would be time to review and update the plan. You would think.
I live in Durham. The recent detour for Route 136 was a major inconvenience for area residents and commuters. The road was closed after a section of highway skirting the Androscoggin River collapsed on September 2. The impact of the closure to individuals, businesses and neighbors due to the 10-mile detour was significant in both time and expense. I am very thankful for efforts by people and organizations such as the Benjamin family, Joyce Taylor and MaineDOT representatives, Durham and Auburn representatives, Shaw Bros. Construction, St. Laurent & Son, Inc., the utility companies and others who provided “emergency room” services to Route 136 and had it up and running as soon as was possible.
On a positive note, I believe many users now have a better appreciation of the importance of this major roadway, and perhaps our roads in general, as well. The story of Route 136 closure ranked No. 5 in the top 10 Sun Journal news stories in 2010, following the election of a new governor and the Oxford Casino vote.
While the Androscoggin River may have provoked this road collapse, we should recognize the value our roads provide and the need to ensure funds are available to maintain and repair our transportation infrastructure. Our funding sources have collapsed just like the riverbank, and we need to do more to shore up monies to support aging infrastructure throughout the state.
I’m sure many people in the Portsmouth/Kittery area feel the same way about Memorial Bridge. The bridge has been on Maine and New Hampshire’s critical list for repairs for some time now. The big question has been: Where will we get the money to fix it? The urgency of the situation was highlighted on December 9 when transportation officials had to shut down the bridge due to safety concerns. After initially estimating the bridge would be closed for three weeks, NHDOT crews were able to make repairs quickly and on December 18 the bridge was reopened with a three-ton weight restriction. The Portsmouth Herald called it an “early Christmas present.” It was quite an achievement, and both the bridge and the Route 136 repairs demonstrate ingenuity and commitment to maintain critical links in our transportation network. Still, these incidents raise the larger question: Is this any way to run a transportation system?
Simply put, crisis management mode is not an efficient way to run a transportation system. It takes enormous resources, both in time and in funding, to operate from emergency to emergency – much more than if we provided proper maintenance and planned improvements. It diverts our attention from important issues including economic recovery and job creation.
Yet crisis management is bound to take a more important role in the future if we continue to underfund our transportation system. For decades we have been lulled into thinking that freeways, state roads and bridges should indeed be “free” and that somehow we can neglect basic investment in and maintenance of our roads and bridges without consequence.
But there are consequences! First, there is the loss of connectivity that we rely on for our families and businesses. While the closure of Route 136 made travel to work and school more challenging for my family, it had devastating impacts on area businesses. For one family, the collapsed road not only impacted the number of customers visiting their farm stand, it severed the link between their farm fields and farm stand during the height of the fall harvest. The impact of the Memorial Bridge closure during the busy holiday season also threatened businesses in downtown Portsmouth.
Second, there also are safety concerns. We were fortunate in both cases that no one was hurt. Still there is the impact road and bridge closures have on the greater public safety – the ability for emergency personnel and vehicles to respond quickly. When this concern was raised at a Durham meeting to discuss the closure, emergency representatives warned of increased response times and suggested residents call early if they thought they were having a heart attack and accident victims were often routed to Portland or Brunswick rather than Lewiston, that normally may have been closer, due to logistics.
Third, there is the money. Research shows that it can cost up to four times as much to repair a road when you delay maintenance. In fact, Maine has delayed so much maintenance on its roads and bridges, we now have a $720 million, two-year shortfall.
That brings to mind the old cliché: “You can pay me now, or you can pay me later.” As we have discovered with Route 136 and the Memorial Bridge, when we do finally pay it can be very, very expensive.
We need to remember there’s a better, safer, more cost-effective and efficient way. While an increase in the gas tax is not popular, the reality is we are paying more for car repairs and expensive road and bridge repairs due to lack of maintenance and upkeep.
With a new governor and legislature working to get our economy flowing, please call and write to let your representatives know that finding a solution to the transportation funding shortfall is critical. Just as people pulled together to address the Route 136 and Memorial Bridge closures, we need to pull together to address our transportation funding shortfall across this great state and get our roads and bridges back in safe condition and keep Maine’s economy moving – smoothly and without delay.
10 for ’10
In 2010, the transportation scene in Maine was marked
by innovation and uncertainty
by Rick Ackermann
No. 1: The 233-mile question
After a lengthy negotiation, Maine bought 233 miles of rail line belonging to Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway (MMA) in Northern Maine for $20.1 million. The plan is to keep the troubled line running freight trains in Aroostook County, and the state is now looking for a rail company to operate the line. In 2009, MMA announced plans to abandon the line, telling the federal Surface Transportation Board it had been losing $5 million a year on the lines from Millinocket to Madawaska and a branch off to Caribou, Presque Isle, Houlton and Limestone. The state, noting more than 25 businesses and an estimated 1,000 jobs rely on the lines, stepped in.
The agreement lifted a “cloud of uncertainty” that had been hanging over the rail line, according to MaineDOT Commissioner David Cole. MMA has carried mostly lumber, paper products, logs and wood chips out of the region, while bringing in products such as fertilizer, propane, chemicals, heating oil and cooking oil for a French fry plant.
Denis Berube of the Northern Maine Development Commission told the Associated Press the region’s employers are pleased with the state’s action, but will be keeping a close watch on whichever rail company is chosen to operate the line. “The bottom line for the shippers and businesses is they need competitive rates. At the end of the day, the shippers have to have something that is workable.”
No. 2: Sandy gets to work
This spring, Sandford ‘Sandy’ Blitz of Hudson was named as federal co-chair of the newly formed Northern Border Regional Commission, a federal economic development task force with $30 million in annual funding authority.
The commission is charged with bringing jobs and economic opportunity to the rural regions of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York. When the MBTA’s Maria Fuentes interviewed Blitz for Maine Trails, the new co-chair said that the commission would be spending the bulk of its funding in three areas: transportation infrastructure; energy projects to lower costs; and broadband / telecommunications. The commission has been mandated by Congress to expend at least 40 percent of its funding on infrastructure. That can mean investments in transportation, general infrastructure such as water and wastewater, telecommunications or any combination of those three. As to whether transportation can bolster a rural economy, Blitz said that, without strong intermodal transportation connections, we cannot have a viable economy. Transportation is absolutely critical to the well being of the economy of any region, he noted.
No. 3: Worsening roads ahead
In 2010, the Maine Better Transportation focused public attention on the deteriorating condition of Maine’s roads and bridges by asking Mainers to nominate what they thought was the worst road in the state. Entries came pouring in.
Martha Jordan nominated Route 219 from Turner to Leeds, one of several dozen entries. Her story of a bent rim, busted tire, lost wheel bearings and $1,000 repair bill won the contest and a $250 certificate for car repair, but the truth is anyone of the three top prize winners and five runners-up could have won the contest, according to MBTA Executive Maria Fuentes. “There are a lot of roads in Maine that are badly in need of reconstruction or repair, but Martha’s story really speaks to the frustration and financial hardship that bad roads cause Mainers every day on the way to work or taking the kids to school,” said Fuentes.
Maine has some of the worst roads in New England. Currently, 26 percent of Maine’s federal-aid highways have poor pavement, according to a recent analysis from the Federal Highway Administration, and the condition of Maine’s roads and bridges has been declining for more than a decade. For a full list of “Worst Road in Maine” winners and runners-up, visit mbtaonline.org.
No. 4: Mind the gap
This fall, the Maine Legislature’s Transportation Committee received the alarming news that the state’s Highway Fund was facing a structural shortfall of $720 million over the next two years. Suzanne Roy of the Office of Fiscal and Program Review (OFPR) delivered the bad news to the Maine Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Transportation during fall 2010. According to Roy, expenditures are expected to outpace revenues for the 2012-13 budget by $350 million in the first year and $370 million in the second. Even if the state made no capital investments in the next budget, the budget would still be $3 million short in 2012 and $2.6 million in 2013, based on baseline spending.
What to do about the shortfall? While some have said that the state can close the gap by trimming budgets and seeking efficiencies, that solution did not hold water with Transportation Committee Chairman Senator Dennis Damon (D-Hancock County). He warned that “efficiency finding alone is not going to get us out of this predicament.”
No. 5: Raising expectations
For a short time last year, there seemed to be gathering momentum for an increase in the federal gas tax. Once the mid-term elections were over in November, there was a flurry of lawmakers – both parting and newly elected – calling for fiscal responsibility in the form of a 15-to-25-cent hike in the federal gas tax. The biggest barrier to a gas tax increase is a stubborn sense of denial of the magnitude of the problem – and Representative John nMica (R-Florida), the newly appointed chair of the House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure. Mica has said he won’t entertain the idea of a tax increase as a means of paying for infrastructure upgrades. Instead he plans to raise the billions needed to improve the highway system by streamlining transportation spending and leveraging public-private partnerships. The transportation news web site Streetsblog reports that Mica wants spending cuts to stabilize the Highway Trust Fund.
The last time Congress increased the gas tax was in 1993 when legislators voted to raise it by 4.3 cents under former President Clinton. This year, the post-election call for an increase was led by Senators Tom Carper (D-Delaware) and George Voinovich (R-Ohio) who proposed a 25-cent-per-gallon fuel tax on gas and diesel. They proposed rolling the tax out gradually over three years with 15 cents of the new revenue going to the Highway Trust Fund for infrastructure and the remaining 10 cents to pay down federal deficits.
That proposal was followed close on the heels by President Obama’s bipartisan National Commission of Fiscal Responsibility and Reform’s call for a more modest increase of just 15 cents. Their draft recommendations also called for an end to any more bailout highway funding from the treasury’s General Fund. Still, not even the 18-member commission could agree on a final set of recommendations that included a raft of budget cuts and new revenue sources. Whether the new Congress will act on either proposal in 2011 is still unknown. Or is all that talk of fiscal responsibility water under a badly corroded bridge?
No. 6: The year of the TIGER (and making tracks)
Maine’s first Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant showed up in February: $14 million to help Maine’s three deepwater ports – Portland, Eastport and Searsport – diversify their customer base and improve their ability to handle green technology, such as wind turbines components. In October, Maine took home more TIGER grants worth $31.3 million: a $20 million grant (shared with New Hampshire) to help repair or replace Memorial Bridge over the Piscataqua River in Kittery; $10.5 million for upgrades and repair of track for the state’s recently purchased rail line in Aroostook County; and $900,000 for a two-year transportation feasibility study in the greater Bangor region. Maine’s congressional delegation had lobbied intensely for the funding, according to U.S. Representative Mike Michaud.
Maine’s TIGER grants weren’t the only stimulus measures that made big news – and a big difference – in Maine. Amtrak’s Downeaster service also received $35 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation to expand the service from Portland to Freeport and Brunswick – part of a high speed rail initiative in the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act. Pan Am Railways construction crews, working with the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority (NNEPRA), began construction on the project in August 2010. Work is expected to be complete in fall 2012. The news got even better in December, when NNEPRA learned it would receive $1.2 million in additional U.S. DOT funding for the project. The money was redirected to the project when high-speed rail projects in Wisconsin, Ohio and Florida were cancelled.
No. 7: Maine voters still believe in transportation
Question 3, a $47.8 million transportation bond that would support investments in roads, rail and marine transportation, was passed by Maine voters on June 8.
“Getting this bond to the voters and passed was a bittersweet victory in many ways,” MBTA Executive Director Fuentes said after the election. “We really should be funding 10 times as much reconstruction and pavement preservation. We have $3.3 billion in unmet transportation needs over the next 10 years, but short-term concerns about the economy and borrowing levels prevented any substantial effort to address those long-term needs.”
A large amount of the $47.8 million bond will go to fund items in MaineDOT’s two-year highway capital program. The department estimates $24.8 million for highways will fund approximately 10 miles of highway reconstruction and more than 31 miles of paving across the state. Another $16 million is slated for rail, including $7 million for the purchase of the Aroostook rail line and rail projects in Lewiston-Auburn and southern Maine. There was also $7 million for a new deepwater berth in Portland Harbor and the popular Small Harbor Improvement Program (SHIP).
No. 8: You read it here first.
The Maine Better Transportation Association, working with its Senior Policy Advisor John Melrose, the MBTA Policy Committee and Board of Directors released a policy paper during autumn 2010 that looked at the future of transportation in Maine. The report’s release was timed to come just before the newly elected Maine State Legislature and Governor Paul LePage took office. Transportation: The case for investment called for a modern, user-funded transportation system and laid out steps state leaders should take to get there. At the heart of the challenge are the state’s aging transportation system and an obsolete funding approach (state and federal gas tax revenues have not kept pace with the cost of system maintenance). The policy paper offered four principles for a solution:
• Advancing a user-funding model under which transportation services are paid for by the individuals and businesses that use them at a level sufficient to fully fund the service.
• Addressing the capital repair backlog.
• Targeting transportation investments to help Maine grow, specifically its roads, rail, ports, aviation and transit.
• Innovating to maximize the value of our investments in transportation infrastructure and to leverage private investment for the public good.
No. 9: Travel connections
Local and state transportation leaders met in late October to mark the start of construction on the 4.3-mile Caribou Connector project in Aroostook County. The bypass, which will direct commercial and heavy traffic away from the town center, has been on the city’s wish list for 30 years and is part of the long-hoped for north-south highway.
The new highway segment is part of the larger Aroostook County Transportation Study, the primary purpose of which is to identify transportation improvements that would help lead to future economic growth in the area. The two-stage construction project means Caribou can continue to develop the downtown area, making it more pedestrian friendly, while moving large through trucks to the connector.
The connector begins just to the west of Van Buren Road and ends with the interchange at the existing Route 1 bypass.
No. 10: Watching and waiting for truck weights
This was also the year of a pilot project that allowed 100,000-pound, six-axle trucks to operate throughout Maine and Vermont’s interstate systems. The one-year trial expired in December unless Congress renewed it (Congress failed to renew it despite multiple attempts supported by Maine’s Congressional delegation). At the end of November Senator Susan Collins, who initiated the original appropriations amendment for the pilot, noted that the study had produced data in support of a permanent exemption allowing heavier trucks on Maine and Vermont’s interstates.
Brian Bouchard, an MBTA board member and a past president of the Maine Motor Transport Association was not surprised. The president and CEO of H.O. Bouchard had done his own test during the pilot, running trucks along I-95 and parallel two-lane roads from Hampden to Houlton. The data he gathered for the 120-mile trip was striking. The truck using local roads and state highways passed through 86 pedestrian crosswalks, nine school crossings, four railroad crossings and four hospitals. For the truck on the interstate it was a straight shot. The interstate trip, clocked at two hours and five minutes, was also 50 minutes shortand required 10 gallons less of diesel fuel.
All hope is not lost. This January, Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) announced they will introduce legislation to make the exemption permanent.
Who’s on the committee? What’s on the docket?
New session brings new leadership, new bills for Transportation Committee to consider
By John Melrose
This winter, as the 125th session of the Maine Legislature gets underway, the Joint Standing Committee on Transportation is expected to tackle a number of challenging issues. And as it does, the 13-member committee will have two new co-chairs to lead them: Senator Ronald F. Collins (R-York County) and Representative Richard M. Cebra (R-Naples). Both have served on the committee before and are versed in the issues facing the state’s transportation system – hundreds of aging bridges in need of repair; thousands of miles of outdated, unimproved rural highways; an aging public transit fleet; ports and rail infrastructure in need of improvement and modernization; and, of course, limited funding.
Senator Collins, who previously served four terms in the legislature, sat on the Transportation Committee during the early 2000s. Representative Cebra, another Transportation Committee veteran, is currently in his fourth term in the legislature.
MBTA President Deborah Dunlap Avasthi praised the experience of the two chairs: “The good news is, both of the new committee chairs have served on the committee before and are dedicated to making transportation in Maine safer and more efficient. The MBTA is looking forward to working with Senator Collins and Representative Cebra this session.”
What’s on the agenda
While the bills still are being drafted, it is certain the Appropriations Committee will hear numerous requests for bond financing, including a dozen on transportation matters alone. The transportation bond titles include two initiatives of particular interest to MBTA members: one is a General Fund bond issue for transportation of all modes; the other is a Highway Fund bond issue focused on highways and bridges. At least three bond proposals pertain to rail; one addresses the Port of Searsport, another LifeFlight; and at least two pertain to the Kittery-Portsmouth bridge needs. Another bill has been filed to implement the recommendations of the Bi-State Bridge Funding Task Force that recently issued its report on the Kittery-Portsmouth bridges. That bill was submitted by Representative Devin Beliveau (D-Kittery).
The Appropriations and Transportation Committees will be engaged on two bills supported by the MBTA: one addresses cost sharing between the General Fund and Highway Fund on the Maine State Ferry Service and the Maine State Police; the other seeks to allocate 20 percent of transportation-related sales tax revenues to the transportation-related expenses of the state. The two committees will collaborate on another measure that seeks to bolster the STAR (State Transit, Aviation and Rail) account and its capacity to fund transit, rail, aviation and marine transportation. This bill will likely seek to set aside further revenues from the car rental tax.
In keeping with all of the campaign pledges last fall, the Taxation Committee will not be hearing any bills seeking to raise motor fuel taxes. The committee will hear three bills on taxation of ethanol- and alcohol-based fuels, and municipalities will have an interest in four bills seeking to modify the motor vehicle excise tax. The legislature will reconsider a proposal made in previous legislatures that would require a two-thirds vote on any measure to raise taxes. This would require a constitutional amendment and therefore ratification by the voters of Maine. One bill calls for the repeal of motor fuel tax indexing and that is particularly troubling to the MBTA and other transportation advocates.
The Transportation Committee will give considerable attention to the Highway Fund budget. The supplemental budget designed to balance the Highway Fund in the current fiscal year has not been filed as yet but most agree it will contain few surprises, given the current condition of the Highway Fund. The next two-year budget will not be easy at all.
The Transportation Committee has a slew of other bills to consider, including a proposal to study leasing the Maine Turnpike Authority and two bills dealing with turnpike financing and the sharing of turnpike surpluses with the state. One bill calls for the “restoration of Maine’s secondary roads” and one to “repeal the laws governing the TransCap Trust Fund.” A couple of bills have been submitted that call for the state to reimburse municipalities for storage of sand and salt reserves in certain cases.
The overriding challenge of the session will be the lack of funding for transportation capital improvements. With little to no legislative interest in raising revenues and a general uneasiness over bonding, it will be critical for the legislature to re-examine priorities and make some very tough spending decisions.
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.
Legislative briefing addresses funding, sustainability and transit
A packed house including many state legislators and local elected officials recently heard Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System tell them what everybody knows.
“Transportation as we know it is crumbling,” said PACTS Policy Committee Chairwoman Katherine Earley at the Ocean Gateway meeting in Portland on December 13. Currently the PACTS region, which includes 15 towns and cities in southern Maine, has identified $200 million in repairs and improvements to collector roads that is currently not funded.
“The gas tax is not providing us with enough revenue now, and it only gets worse in the future,” said PACTS executive director, John Duncan.
The solution? Presenters at the briefing – Representative Ann Peoples (D-Westbrook), Paul Godfrey of HNTB and Patricia Quinn of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority (NNEPRA) – offered three views of ongoing efforts to address the region’s transportation problems.
“We need to talk about the ‘F word’ and that is ‘funding,’” said Representative Peoples, a member of the Maine Legislature’s Transportation Committee. She called on members of the audience to offer their views on how to raise funds to fix area roads and bridges.
Several people present suggested that transit and user fees, in the form of gas taxes and tolls, were a solution. The federal gas tax has not been increased since 1993. Also people driving fuel-efficient cars are paying less in user fees.
Dennis Damon, a former senator from Trenton and past co-chair of the Legislature’s Transportation Committee, said user fees should be increased to pay for the cost of maintaining the state’s roads.
“Nobody likes taxes, nobody likes user fees, but the ugly truth is, we need to increase those fees,” Damon said.
Looking for other solutions, several speakers referred to the well maintained, user-fee financed Maine Turnpike, suggesting some of those moneys could be used elsewhere.
But Conrad Welzel, Maine Turnpike Authority government relations manager, pointed out that in the late 1990s the Maine Legislature ruled the MTA was restricted in its use of toll revenues.
“The money collected has to go to what we’re collecting it for,” Welzel said. “[The legislature] felt it was smarter to keep the rates lower.”
Another option was to use the carrot of funding to promote more sustainable development policies in the region’s communities. Paul Godfrey of HNTB, that recently developed the Gorham East-West Corridor Study, was on hand and said findings suggested offering funded infrastructure improvements as an incentive for communities to limit growth to the designated areas would allow MaineDOT and PACTS “to stretch their funding.”
The study recommended targeting areas within Scarborough, South Portland, Westbrook and Gorham.
Several individuals in the audience also called on legislators to consider funding improved transit for the region to help reduce congestion.
NNEPRA’s Quinn spoke to efforts to expand passenger rail service. “It’s important to invest in a diversified transportation system,” said Quinn, adding that every mile of double train track has the carrying capacity of 14 lanes of highway.
The more things change. . .
60th Maine Transportation Conference looks at how industry has changed and will need to continue to adapt
Not surprisingly, talk at the Maine Transportation Conference on December 2 at the Augusta Civic Center was all about change: what changes are on the horizon with the shift in political power at state and federal levels; and also the history of change in Maine’s transportation industry – this was the 60th industry gathering, after all.
Keynote speaker Pete Rahn of HNTB Corp, a leading voice for change in the industry, focused on the need to use transportation as a catalyst for a greater economy. He talked about the challenge ahead for a new U.S. Congress that will grapple with passing legislation with long-term funding for the nation’s roads, bridges and transit. He was not particularly sanguine.
Rahn is the former head of the Missouri Department of Transportation and former president of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.
“We can’t have a funding bill until we have a way to pay for it,” he said bluntly. And he was bleak in his assessment of federal lawmakers’ willingness or ability to come up with new funding for transportation in the face of declining revenue from the federal gas tax.
“The question is not how do you grow the federal highway program? The only solution is how do you live with the dollars you have?” said Rahn.
With midterm elections having brought about a shift in political power at both the state and national levels and growing public concern over bonding and debt levels, how to fund regional and national transportation systems: that was the question on everybody’s mind.
Good time for taxes?
Rahn said we will need to prioritize our transportation funding decisions, and a good way to do that will be to view transportation as a catalyst for economic development. He talked about the ability of efficient transportation to support economic development. He cited the example of soybeans grown in Nebraska and how farmers have benefited from the availability of cost-efficient transportation, including rail, that has helped make them competitive in the global market, even in the face of growing competition from growers in Brazil.
He also said that the subject of raising revenues will have to be on the table, despite all of the “no new tax” pledges that were made in the recent midterm elections.
“When has it ever been a good time to raise taxes?” said Rahn. “It has been when we’ve had the leadership who’ve said we must pay for things that are critical for our way of life.”
To pay for those critical things, including good roads and bridges, Rahn said we needed to look at radical new approaches to funding – such as a mileage charge. But changes like those are a long way off, said Rahn adding,
“I think we end up back at [raising] the gas tax – it’s the most economically direct approach.” Yet, whether it’s a charge at the pump or a tax on refineries, Rahn urged action. “Somehow, we’ve got to come up with the resources.”
The full day of seminars and workshops included technical and policy discussions of all things transportation. One of the most popular sessions was a retrospective by four current and past MaineDOT commissioners: David Cole, John Melrose, Dana Connors and George Campbell. They, in turn, each discussed the issues of their day, which to all who lived through them may have seemed every bit as insurmountable as MaineDOT’s current funding crunch.
Kathy Ruffalo of Ruffalo & Associates, a national consulting firm, and John Melrose of Maine Tomorrow headlined a mid-morning session titled “Transportation Funding,” that explored the issue from a national and regional perspective. Ruffalo urged Maine transportation leaders to remain positive, creative and open to change, now that the country is emerging from the recession with new cost-conscious leaders in Washington.
Melrose, senior policy advisor for the Maine Better Transportation Association, and an author of its recently released policy paper, Transportation: The case for investment, spoke about the need to address funding from a number of angles – including re-prioritizing state and local transportation expenditures, identifying new funding sources and pursuing public-private partnerships.
The day also included presentations on: developments in passenger and freight transportation – air, transit and rail; launch of open road tolling on I-95 in New Hampshire; federal, state and municipal initiatives in transportation; accelerated infrastructure renewal; and a bridge building competition. John Dority, longtime chief engineer for MaineDOT,
provided a history of important transportation projects over the past 60 years.
Changing of the guard
At lunch, the Maine Turnpike Authority (MTA) presented a special award to Senator Dennis Damon, who left the Maine Legislature after three terms as co-chairman of the Joint Standing Committee on Transportation. MTA Executive Director Paul Violette proclaimed Damon “Honorary Chairman” of the MTA for the day and called his efforts to improve transportation in Maine “courageous” – particularly his leadership in the 2007 passage of L.D. 1790: An Act to Secure Maine’s Transportation Future that created a framework for major changes in how Maine finances its transportation infrastructure.
At the conference luncheon, Commissioner David Cole announced several special awards given to individuals and groups in the department: the 2010 President’s Transportation Award from the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) for introduction of “composite technologies into traditional transportation infrastructure in Maine”; and an Environmental Protection Agency Smart Growth Achievement Award for the Gateway 1 Corridor Action Plan. It was the first time the EPA has presented a rural region with one of its Smart Growth awards.
In addition to the special awards, MaineDOT also awarded the 2010 David Stevens Award at the conference to Bruce Van Note (see article in this issue). Commissioner Cole also announced four AASHTO 25-year merit awards that went to MaineDOT Director of Engineering and Operations David Bernhardt (Governor LePage recently nominated Bernhardt to head MaineDOT); Dale Peabody in the department’s safety, training and research unit; Assistant Director of Project Development William Pulver; and Director of Policy Development and Statewide Planning Duane Scott.
Border meeting, holiday greetings
MBTA Holiday Meeting focuses on border economy
Sandford blitz was the headliner at the MBTA Holiday Meeting, and he had a lot to say about economic opportunities on Maine’s border with Canada. Blitz is the federal co-chair of the Northern Border Regional Commission (NBRC), and he introduced more than 100 MBTA members and friends to a concept in economic development that has been tried with good success in other regions of the country.
The Northern Border Regional Commission covers a 36-county region in four states: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York. The commission was established by the U.S. Congress in 2009, and it is modeled on seven other regions targeted by earlier congressional funding, including the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC). ARC was founded in 1965 by Congress and has become a model for successful rural economic development. Each of the eight regional commissions currently authorized by Congress govern multi-state areas marked by higher than average poverty and unemployment, loss of population and lower than average per capita personal income.
Blitz is no stranger to the challenges of economic development. He is a former U.S. Small Business Administration regional administrator and adjunct professor with the University of Maine’s Department of Public Administration specializing in economic development, intergovernmental affairs, and regional governance.
At the Holiday Meeting, he shared what he called “the gangrene map” with the crowd, and it showed the sprawling reach of the commission. In Maine, a large area of the state is eligible for NBRC funding – 12 out of 16 Maine counties are included in the region: Androscoggin, Aroostook, Franklin, Hancock, Kennebec, Knox, Oxford, Penobscot, Piscataquis, Somerset, Waldo and Washington. Blitz talked about how funding for transportation and telecommunications infrastructure are the highest priorities given to projects receiving NBRC funding.
The commission will award a total of $30 million in grants by 2012. Funding for the commission is awarded to projects that meet specific criteria regarding their role in improving rural infrastructure – transportation and communication. Transportation projects must comprise at least 40 percent of all of the investments that are funded.
Members also got the chance to meet 12 recent MBTA Education Foundation Scholarship winners from the University of Maine and Washington County Community College. Students in attendance included Stephen Bates, Joseph Birckhead, Justin Cleaves, Alan Farrington, Bo Li, Joshua Luce, Annika Matthiasson, Alex Michaud, Samedy Oun, Dylan Smith and Katy Grimes, all from UMaine; and Ronald St. John from Washington County Community College. Also in attendance was Professor Phil Dunn, from the Construction Management department of UMaine.
As is tradition, the MBTA announced winners of two of its biggest annual events at the December 9 meeting: the annual membership recruitment contest and the Super Raffle.
This year, members were very supportive of the Super Raffle that raises funds for the MBTA Educational Foundation. The $50 tickets sold out before the Holiday Meeting, and the effort raised over $17,000. The foundation provides scholarships and other educational opportunities to students pursuing careers in transportation-related fields. CPM Constructors took home the top Super Raffle prize – a $7,000 trip to anywhere in the world.
Once again, the top ticket seller was Bruce Hubbard of ETTI, who sold 131 tickets – more than 25 percent of all the tickets sold; and once again, Bruce donated the gift certificate he won as the top salesperson back – this time to be split between two scholarship students: Justin Cleaves and Alan Farrington.
Paul Koziell of CPM Constructors placed second, selling 75 tickets. John Wardwell of Lane Construction Corporation was third and sold 61 tickets. All told, the committee, chaired by MBTA Educational Foundation chair Doug Hermann, sold 500 tickets.
Other committee members included: Lauren Corey, Greg Dore, Debbie Dunlap Avasthi, Phil Grondin, Jr., Don Raye, and Randy Mace.
This year, despite the challenging economy, the Membership Committee was very successful in bringing new members into the organization. Committee members recruited 31 new corporate and non-profit members and seven individuals. Eric Ritchie of The Lane Construction Corporation, who was also the committee chairman, brought in the most new members and took home first place in the recruitment contest. Scott Preston of Wellman Paving placed a close second (only five points separated the two); and Jay Shorette of Dirigo Slipform placed third.
Many thanks to all of our members who worked on the Membership Committee and helped sell Super Raffle tickets. Your efforts helped put us over the top in 2010!
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow
Advancements help Maine cities and towns gain an edge and cut costs in the perennial fight against snow and ice
By Kathryn Buxton
It’s 7:30 a.m. on one of those hard, cold December mornings that make living in Maine feel like living in a deep freeze. The large function room on the outskirts of Portland is filling up quickly, and a line has formed at a table where strong, black coffee is being dispensed. As municipal employees, no one in the room is a stranger to the early hour or cold weather. They are used to being up and at work as the weather and local residents demand.
Still, few of the 75 maintenance personnel registered for a MaineDOT workshop titled “Snow and Ice Control on Local Roads” appear entirely comfortable with the prospect of a day spent inside. That will change as the day unfolds and the conversation about snow and what to do with it gets underway.
“We try to orient these sessions to the broader audience and make them interesting and informative and include a bit of humor, too,” said Peter Coughlan, director of the Maine Local Roads Center (MLRC).
Coughlan is just one of the day’s speakers. There will be presentations by Phil Curtis, a former local road commissioner who is a MLRC consultant (and also the Maine House Majority Leader); Stu Seavey of H.P. Fairfield, a supplier of municipal equipment; and Frank Beliveau, territory manager for Innovative Surface Solutions, a distributor of winter maintenance material.
The workshop is one of five MaineDOT winter maintenance presentations planned for locations throughout the state this winter, part of the department’s ongoing efforts to support local road maintenance operations. Among the 75 maintenance personnel from 22 different towns attending the workshop, there are both novices facing their first winter clearing roads and old pros who have fought snow and ice on Maine roads for decades. For everyone present, though, the message is the same: when the snow flies, you better be ready to move it as efficiently as possible.
‘July roads in January’
Fighting snow has changed enormously during the past decade. One of the biggest changes, according to MaineDOT consultant Curtis, is public expectations. “These days, everyone wants July roads in January,” he said, echoing the concerns of several in the workshop, adding that puts pressure on towns and crews who are already suffering with tight budget constraints. “They’re being asked to do more with less.”
He describes the snow clearing process as a three-legged stool, with one leg representing cost, a second public safety and the third environmental concerns. It is that third leg – the environment – that has brought about the biggest change in recent years.
Pro-active versus reactive
That change is in attitude and awareness. A decade ago, few people worried about the quantity of salt and sand used as long as crews kept roads “black” – free of ice and snow. Now, there are environmental concerns and budgets are tighter than ever. Few people know that better than Herbert Whittier, public works director for Monmouth, a town of approximately 3,800 residents 17 miles southwest of Augusta. Whittier has been in charge of Monmouth’s roads in good weather and bad since 1977. His crew of four manages 65 miles of roads within the town boundaries, including 12 miles of unpaved roads. He says he’s seen a major change in how towns like his manage winter road maintenance during the past several years.
That is when his crews began to pretreat priority roads with Ice Ban, a branded rock salt mixture that has been pre-wetted with organic material to help it better adhere to the road surface. The material reduces what is called “bounce and scatter” – rock salt that literally bounces off the road surface when it is dispensed from the back of a municipal plow truck. (Another pretreated salt product called Ice-B-Gone is also popular among municipal road departments in Maine.)
With less salt straying off the road, that is less salt that makes it into the local ecosystem. It also means a town like Monmouth can significantly reduce the amount of salt it uses during a winter storm. In fact, Whittier said, Monmouth now uses between one-quarter and one-third less salt during a typical winter storm, and that is just the beginning of the efficiencies gained. When the salt stays on the road longer, it reduces the number of plow runs his crews have to make. And the newer, prewetted salt mixes are also easier on his equipment.
According to Peter Coughlan, MaineDOT director of community services and the department’s Maine Local Roads Center, the difference between anti-icing or pretreating winter roads and de-icing, plowing and spreading sand and salt after snow has begun to fall, is perhaps the single, biggest innovation in winter maintenance in recent years. It is the difference between being pro-active and reactive, and they are key strategies that will help Maine towns continue to fight snow and ice effectively, even as budget and environmental pressures continue to mount.
Coughlan said that winter maintenance crews can no longer afford to over treat roads – a strategy he calls “When in doubt, dump it out.”
“We’re in a cost-conscious and environmentally-conscious environment,” said Coughlan. “Pretreating reduces the freezing point of water and saves money. When you delay your attack and treat ice and snow from the top down, it can cost up to six times as much.”
Tools in the toolbox
These days, prewetted salt and sand are just two of the tools in the municipal snow fighter’s arsenal that have become widely available during the past decade. Brines, calcium chloride, ground speed control spreaders, global positioning (GPS) and satellite weather services are all helping keep local streets and highways safe, and clear of winter snow and ice.
Yet in Maine, where winter is long and weather patterns can vary greatly, the strategies for treating ice and snow also vary. Whittier is a prime example of how many of Maine’s communities mix older techniques with the newer ones.
“We pretreat now, and that keeps salt on the road and the snow from freezing, and it’s not nearly as caustic or hard on the equipment as other delivery methods,” said Whittier.
Still, on many roads, that is not enough. While Whittier said he knows there are concerns about the use of sand because of environmental concerns and the cost of spring clean up, in his opinion sand still is essential. Sand needs to be picked up after the spring melt, or else it can clog ditches, inhibit drainage and be a safety hazard for cyclists.
“We try to use less sand, but it’s almost impossible,” said Whittier. “You’ve got to have traction, and sand makes traction.”
Gerry James, director of public works for the city of Presque Isle said that some of the newer techniques and tools work better than others in his domain, a city of just under 10,000 residents in Aroostook County. His crews maintain 147 miles of city streets and roads, and the challenge there is finding the right combination of strategies for the weather and location. Some of his streets are in higher traffic urban locations, others are in more rural areas, and setting priorities and pretreating roads can help.
“In 1989, we started pretreating intersections on Main Street with salt and liquid calcium,” said James. But some techniques, because pavement temperatures in this northern Maine city are often below the effective threshold, are just not practical.
“We tried brine, but it doesn’t work all that well here,” said James. “At 20 degrees, it starts to refreeze.”
On the other hand, new spreading equipment that has come on the market in the past decade has revolutionized how his crews work and how much material they require. He singled out the innovation of computers known as ground speed control units that automatically adjust the dispersement rate of salt, calcium chloride and sand based on air and pavement temperature and truck speed.
“Ground speed controls definitely have made a difference for us,” said James. “We used to calibrate our spreaders by hand and that involved a lot of guesswork. With the automatic equipment, we’ve been able to increase the number of miles we treat by about 70 percent. And we’ve greatly increased our service levels.”
On the horizon
Tom Eldridge, director of public services for the city of Westbrook in southern Maine, said his department is responsible for nearly 90 miles of roads within the city borders.
“A lot of it is technique, in my opinion,” said Eldridge. “Ground speed control units save a lot of product and the technique of getting out early is important.”
Still, he said, because Westbrook has so many high traffic streets, traditional snow removal methods are key. His department has 25 people who plow and provide dispatch and other support services during a typical storm.
“We have lot of people who travel through Westbrook to the Maine Mall and other destinations, so it’s very important to make sure the roads are safe,” said Eldridge. “We pretreat … but I haven’t seen any substitute for having responders on the ground. We are continually out there during a storm - scraping and plowing.”
Technology, including access to accurate, satellite weather, has been a great help, he said, allowing his department to better track the movement of a storm through the area and schedule crews more efficiently.
As the snow removal industry continues to develop, he looks forward to future innovations in how cities like Westbrook deal with the aftermath of a storm.
“In our downtown area we have to remove the snow after a storm,” said Eldridge, and finding someplace to put all that snow can be a problem. He said Westbrook has traditionally used snow throwers and dump trucks to haul snow to remote “snow dumps” where it is allowed to melt. That process can be expensive and brings with it environmental concerns about run-off from the snow melt and emissions from dump trucks and throwers.
Eldridge believes the next big innovation that will impact cities like Westbrook will be a new generation of snow melters. The current machines are very expensive, but he hopes they will to come down in price as demand increases. “Manchester Airport in New Hampshire has one. It melts the snow right on the spot, so there’s no need to haul it away,” said Eldridge.
With all the new equipment and techniques, it still comes down to the trained personnel who man the trucks during one of the 30 snow storms that typically occur during Maine’s 20-week stretch of winter weather.
“That’s the reason our local highway departments exist, because no one is more efficient at moving snow than public works,” said Coughlan.
FMI: MaineDOT’s Maine Local Roads Center provides training, technical assistance, and information to those municipal people who are responsible for constructing, maintaining, and managing local roads and bridges in Maine. Visit their web site at www.maine.gov/mdot/mlrc/mlrc-home.php.
MaineDOT snowfighters keep Maine ‘open for business’
Another maine winter is here, and once again MaineDOT requests your patience and cooperation while we work with our municipal counterparts and private operators to clear snow and ice from Maine’s roads as quickly and efficiently as possible.
MaineDOT’s vehicle fleet includes roughly 400 plow trucks to remove snow and ice from over 4,000 centerline miles of state highways. In a typical winter, MaineDOT will use nearly 100,000 tons of rock salt and 15,000 cubic yards of winter sand. Although the use of liquid chlorides, such as calcium chloride, magnesium chloride and salt brine, have received a considerable amount of discussion in recent years, liquid usage by MaineDOT actually represents only about 3 percent of our total materials volume.
MaineDOT currently uses two types of liquid chlorides: salt brine (salt dissolved in water) and a magnesium chloride blend (commercially available under the name, Ice B’Gone.) Liquids play an important role in any snow and ice program because they provide a proactive option for treating roads in advance of adverse conditions. In addition, liquids also help reduce overall salt usage by keeping more of the salt on the road, activating it more quickly, and giving it a much-needed boost at lower temperatures. The magnesium chloride material is used by MaineDOT because it is recognized by the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency as part of its “Design for the Environment” program, and because it can be blended with our salt brine to improve its performance and help make it less corrosive to metals. However, it is still important to recognize that all types of chlorides (salts) are corrosive, and that care should be taken to rinse vehicles routinely throughout the winter and annually to touch up any areas that start to rust. In recent years, there have been changes in the chemicals that protect the metals used in certain automotive components – particularly a reduction of the use of hexavalent chromium – that make proper maintenance more important than ever.
Technology and training now play a huge role in today’s snow and ice programs. At MaineDOT, all of our plow trucks are outfitted with infrared pavement temperature sensors and on-board computers to help us assure that we only apply the necessary amount of salt required to keep the roads safe. Remote cameras, weather stations, radar and our law enforcement partners help us monitor distant locations and how traffic may be impacted. End-of-storm and seasonal reporting of material usage from every truck is recorded and electronically downloaded after each storm. This helps us monitor how we are performing and helps ensure we are managing the taxpayers’ dollars well.
Even the snowfighters’ most important tool, the snowplow, has undergone dramatic improvements. MaineDOT now uses various types of front plows, wings, and underbody plows to remove as much snow as possible from the road. Less snow means better driving conditions and less salt usage. Some plows are even segmented across their length to better conform to the shape of our roads, enabling them to pull the slush from wheel ruts. And, if you happen to travel north of Bangor on I -95 or on Route 1A this winter, you may even see a new piece of equipment known as the “towplow” – a 25-foot-long, trailer-mounted plow that can swing out to the right to clear an additional lane beside the plow truck, doubling the plowing efficiency of one truck and driver.
By continually seeking ways to improve, and implementing those products and strategies that prove effective, MaineDOT has been able to increase plow-route lengths, decrease trucks, reduce staff, eliminate buildings and lots, and save Maine taxpayers millions of dollars each year. This, in turn, has helped us put more towards improving the roads to offset the rising costs of our aging infrastructure. But despite all of the technology and improvements, it is important to recognize that winter storms do temporarily impact our transportation system, and will create slippery conditions. If you can avoid travel during a winter storm, please do so. It will allow us to clear the roads more quickly and efficiently.
If you must travel during a storm, please make sure you leave plenty of time, have good tires on your vehicle, use your seat belt, and most importantly, drive slowly and cautiously. We will sincerely appreciate your cooperation and will return the roads to normal as quickly as possible. Always remember…“In ice and snow, take it slow!”