It’s about education, stupid
Educating colleagues, neighbors and family about the transportation funding crisis
By Randy Mace, MBTA President
The theme of this issue of Maine Trails is education. You can’t get ahead without education, something MBTA members, as a well-informed group of citizens, community leaders and business people, know all too well.
This issue doesn’t just focus on the up-and-comers – though there is an introduction to the 17 accomplished students who have recently received MBTA scholarships. We also recognize how important it is to continue to learn from our colleagues even after we leave school. As famed physicist Albert Einstein once said, “Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death.” The 61st Maine Transportation Conference was a good example of just how important it is to learn every day of our lives. The day-long event held in December was attended by more than 500 municipal and business leaders. Throughout the day, these community and business leaders tackled the tough issues of transportation: stretching a maintenance dollar; delving into state and local funding gaps; engaging the public; advancing environmental management trends; and putting new technologies to work.
To borrow a less lofty phrase from recent history – “It’s about education, stupid.” And that was at the heart of the keynote address by U.S. Chamber of Commerce transportation policy guru Janet Kavinoky. She gave a play-by-play of the battle underway in Washington, D.C. over the long-term federal transportation authorization. She also talked about how important public education and engagement were to moving key transportation issues forward.
Conference presentations also included a session led by Jack Basso, AASHTO director of program finance and management, on inroads some states have made in raising revenues in an anti-tax climate. George Campbell, Jr., who recently left his post as New Hampshire Department of Transportation Commissioner and also served as Maine Commissioner of Transportation, echoed the philosopher George Santayana who said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Campbell talked about the importance of citizens letting their lawmakers know that “infrastructure deficits” do matter. And that those who choose not to “remember” are guilty of neglect and the subsequent cost to society in increased maintenance costs, lost business opportunity and lost productivity.
In fact, during the 61 years that the Maine Transportation Conference has been held, it has been synonymous with education, and that is why MBTA continues to be a major sponsor of the event, along with MaineDOT and Maine Chapter, ASCE (American Society of Civil Engineers).
MBTA also believes in addressing the issues at our regional meetings, and our most recent meeting in Bangor was all about education. Our guest speaker was UMaine President Dr. Paul W. Ferguson, and he talked about how important education was going to be for the future of the university – and the state. He mentioned the university’s efforts to attract the best students and critical research dollars, and how education and research play a vital role in the economy. One of my favorite moments was when he asked for a show of hands by all the UMaine graduates in the room. It was impressive to see just how many of our colleagues at MBTA began their professional careers with a UMaine education.
Now, as the Maine Legislature and U.S. Congress gear up for 2012 and get ready to address issues such as a Maine infrastructure bond and federal transportation legislation, I hope you will be with me on the front lines of MBTA’s education efforts. We need to get our families, friends, colleagues and neighbors involved in the debate. We need to raise the tough question: what will happen if we don’t find ways to fix our roads and make our transportation system safer and more efficient?
This won’t be easy. There are a lot of competing interests and market forces that will challenge our efforts. But the truth is, our economy will never get better unless we make better transportation a priority. So I hope I will be able to call on you to help educate the folks you work, socialize and live with every day on just how critical this issue is.
In closing, I would like to say thank you to everyone who volunteered their time and resources for MBTA during 2011. We accomplished many things last year with your help. We grew our infrastructure and scholarship funds and advocated in Augusta and Washington, D.C. You supported our events – our regional and annual meetings, the Infrastructure Golf Tournament, our convention and more. You spoke out with your local and state legislators.
While it is amazing to see how much we are able to accomplish when 700 transportation leaders put their minds to the task of educating the public and our legislators, we must also remember, in many ways, that work has only begun.
I look forward to working with you again in 2012.