Maine Trails, December - January '12
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10 for 2011
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The many lives of Don Raye
Guest Column

MaineDOT View: Balancing budget, priorities and customer service levels.

Prioritization drives new capital goals

By David Bernhardt, P.E., MaineDOT Commissioner

Over the last year or so, three Maine Trails articles have outlined MaineDOT’s framework to manage Maine’s highway system based on highway corridor priorities (HCP) and customer service levels (CSL). In the last article, we illustrated how the HCP/CSL matrix will be used to benchmark current highway and bridge conditions and to assist with prioritization of candidate projects for the biennial work plan.

In this article, MaineDOT is proposing new capital goals based upon this same framework. This approach allows us to achieve our mission of responsibly providing the safest and most reliable transportation possible given available resources. These new goals have been submitted for legislative consideration in this session (L.D. 1753 – An Act to Improve Transportation in the State, Part B). If adopted, these “right-sized” goals and practical designs will cut our unmet capital needs nearly in half, setting the stage for more realistic and hopeful discussions regarding capital funding.
 
EXISTING GOALS
 
The Maine Legislature set the existing capital goals in 2007 (PL 2007, Chapter 470). These goals, codifi ed in 23 MRSA §73 (6), were a milestone in that they set a direction and provided a requirement for MaineDOT to report progress towards them on a biennial basis. The original goals were developed during a time when there was a reasonable expectation for substantially increased federal and state funding for surface transportation.
 
But times have changed. Neither the federal nor state motor fuel tax is likely to increase in these challenging times, and other options such as a mileage-based user fee are not yet viable. Just as families and businesses need to set priorities and revisit their goals when money is tight, we need to set realistic expectations in order to continue to provide a safe and reliable transportation system.
 
Comparing the cost of the existing goals against funding resulted in a $2.7 billion highway and bridge unmet need over the next 10 years, leaving us $270 million per year short. To place this fi gure in context, this equates to nearly a 40-cent increase per gallon in fuel tax, currently set at 30 cents.
 
PROPOSED ‘RIGHT-SIZED’  GOALS
 
Our proposed right-sized goals based on highway corridor priorities and customer service levels are customer-focused, outcome based and will lead to common sense transportation solutions. They will provide a transportation system that is adequate and meets the public need versus “one size fits all” national design standards that Maine simply cannot afford.
 
The proposed replacement goals can be summarized as follows:
 
Priority 1 and 2 Highways
Eliminate all CSL “D”s and “F”s in 10 years (Safety, Condition and Service). All roads Fair or better.
 
Priority 3 Highways
Eliminate all CSL “D”s and “F”s in 15 years (Safety, Condition and Service). All roads Fair or better.
 
Priority 4 Highways
Implement a program that will maintain Ride Quality at “C” (Fair) or better within five years.
 
Priority 5 Highways
Continue the seven-year cycle for light capital paving. As an integral part of the HCP/CSL framework, bridge CSLs would have similar targets for safety, condition and service, with public safety being paramount.
 
Even with these right-sized goals, there would still be a substantial unmet capital need, but the need would be reduced by nearly half. Fullhighway and bridge reconstruction would be targeted to the higher priorityhighways, while lower priority highways would see more highwayrehabilitation, paving and bridge repairs versus full reconstruction.
 
Once we have reasonable capital goals based on customer expectations and have stretched available dollars using practical designs, the stage is set for policy debates about state priorities and transportation funding needs. Working with the governor and our congressional delegation, we look forward to those discussions.

 

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