Bridges, bonds and what’s good for Maine business
Legislative briefing generates questions and concerns about transportation investments in current administration
At the recent transportation legislative breakfast hosted by AGC, MBTA, Maine Aggregates Association and MAPA, everyone in the room appeared in agreement Maine needs to improve its transportation infrastructure, particularly its roads and bridges.
Opinions diverged when discussion turned to how to pay for it and how much Maine could afford. The event was led by a panel that included Senator Ronald Collins (R-York County), co-chair of the Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Transportation; John Melrose of Eaton Peabody Consulting, MBTA’s senior policy consultant; Herb Sargent of Sargent Corp.; and Jack Parker of Reed & Reed. Ken Grondin, of R.J. Grondin & Sons Construction and AGC of Maine president, moderated the discussion. Senate President Kevin Raye (R-Washington County) also spoke, welcoming the nearly 60 citizens and legislators assembled.
In his opening remarks, Raye touched on several key issues under discussion in the legislature. These include a proposed amendment to the landmark legislation that created the TransCap Fund; tax break legislation for the top income earners in Maine from 8.5 percent to 7.95 percent; pension fund reform for state employees; regulatory reform, a topic that has been the cause celebré of the current administration; and whether there was interest in a transportation bond.
About bonding, Raye intimated that while many including Governor Paul LePage have said new bonding is off the table, there is support for investments that will help create jobs. “Particularly when it comes to improving our infrastructure – roads and sewer – there is a lot of interest in crafting at least a modest bond package,” said Raye.
Senator Collins spoke about the change in leadership in state government and the priorities of the Maine Legislature and of the Transportation Committee of which he is co-chair.
“This is new regime, a new party in control and the priorities are those that are healthy for Maine and healthy for this industry,” said Collins. He said he was committed to “making sure Maine’s infrastructure is the best quality product for the best price.”
Jack Parker of Reed & Reed, Inc. warned legislators present about the mounting dangers of bridges and roads that may look like they are safe but that present a major safety concern for Maine. He told of one Old Town bridge his company rebuilt that literally disintegrated as crews began to work on it.
“Just two weeks before that bridge was carrying cars and trucks – really heavy trucks, in some cases,” recounted Parker. “We have bridges and roads reaching the end of their useful life, and I hope legislators will keep that in mind.”
John Melrose of Eaton Peabody Consulting provided an overview of legislation under discussion with bearing on the transportation industry. He talked of the governor’s budget proposal that includes General Fund support for transportation infrastructure of $20 million in unallocated surpluses at the close of the 2012-2013 biennium.
Melrose also told assembled legislators that a bill to repeal motor fuel tax indexing could be detrimental to Maine’s roads and bridges. He said that the measure, passed nearly a decade ago, has generated nearly $300 million dollars for the Highway Fund and gone to work repairing roads and bridges across the state.
Herb Sargent of Sargent Corp. spoke of how the state’s declining investment in transportation has affected his business, notably at this time of year due to the proliferation of posted roads at a time when commercial construction is just showing the glimmer of recovery.
“Posted roads are a big issue,” said Sargent. “We have jobs that are starting May 1, and we have to stage equipment for those jobs two months ahead of time. I invite any one of you to buy some heavy equipment and then have to park it for two months.”
Sargent also made the case for legislators to provide MaineDOT with a steady source of funding that will enable the department to establish a long-term plan for repairing the state’s transportation infrastructure. “There needs to be some kind of predictable funding.”
Sargent also made the appeal for legislators to think about the legacy legislators will leave behind for their children and grandchildren. He urged them to “walk away with a different legacy than patch and pray. . . figure out what we will need in 50 years, and let that be your legacy.”