Work on the road ahead
It is an honor to begin my term as president of the MBTA, an association with such a rich history in advocating for transportation investment in Maine. You may read about some of our more recent history – the history of the MBTA Infrastructure Development Fund – in our cover story. We spoke with Frank Healy and Earle Cianchette – two past presidents – each of whom was instrumental in creating and developing this fund along with many board members and others who donated through sponsorships or attendance at golf tournaments or through our annual silent and live auctions, or by volunteering at events.
The goal is to raise $1.1 million by 2015, a “war chest” that eventually will be self-sustaining and provide seed money for campaigns, educating the public on the link between investment in transportation and economic vitality. Already, we have made grants to support bond issue media campaigns, the turnpike widening initiative, and efforts through Leaders Encouraging Aroostook Development and the East-West Highway Association to complete north-south and east-west routes. We also continue to oppose efforts that would reduce or impinge transportation funding.
Being MBTA president is an honor, and in preparation I reflected on the many tasks ahead of us. Our immediate goal is to get a transportation bond passed this fall. The transportation bond on the November ballot will read: “Do you favor a $51,500,000 bond issue for improvements to highways and bridges, local roads, airports and port facilities, as well as for funds for rail access, transit buses and the LifeFlight Foundation, which will make the State eligible for at least $105,600,000 in federal and other matching funds?”
MBTA members know how critical it is to get this passed. We know this is a drop in the bucket compared to our needs. Even by MaineDOT estimates, the shortfall per year is $150 million in order to maintain our system. Does this bond get us there? Of course not, but if this doesn’t pass, we will slip further behind.
In the mid-term, we have to work with Governor LePage and the new Maine Legislature to ensure that the General Fund contributes more to our transportation system. Our research shows us that other states, on average, contribute 17 percent of their state’s general fund revenues to pay for highways and bridges. Maine has no consistent General Fund contributions to our system. This has to be at the forefront of our agenda.
Looking to the future, we need to advocate that our state and federal leaders – our senators and members of the House – find a sustainable funding mechanism for our transportation infrastructure. Maine can’t find a solution on its own – it has to be part of a national effort. We must work with other constituent groups and help make transportation more of a federal priority, like it was in the 1950s when this country built the interstate system.
Allies in Washington
We are most fortunate to have an ally in U.S. Senator Susan Collins, who is a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Senator Collins has proven her absolute commitment to transportation, not only in getting the truck weights legislation passed after many had tried for decades, but also in securing various TIGER grants to fund highway, bridge, rail, port and aviation improvements. We also have an ally in Congressman Michael Michaud, who is on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in the House, and who has fought relentlessly for our state.
We will miss Senator Olympia Snowe, a beacon in the Senate who, like Senator Collins, has put the needs of Maine before party politics. We wish Senator Snowe well. We look forward to working more with Congresswoman Pingree, who also understands the importance of infrastructure investments.
Finding a national solution will be important, and we have to work with other groups, not only within Maine but on the national level, to move transportation higher on the political agenda.
Down the road
We have to look to the future. One way to create leaders is to invest in our young people who will be our future workforce. I hope you will continue to help us grow the MBTA Scholarship Fund, so one day, it will be self-sustaining and we can fund our scholarships through the earnings.
We have a lot of work on the road ahead. I would be remiss if I didn’t thank each and every one of you for your participation and support. Whether you are a sponsor, an advertiser, you serve on a committee or if you faithfully pay your dues, your membership and support matter to us. You are the lifeblood of our organization.
Whatever your participation, we thank you for being here, for working alongside us, for helping us to make transportation a higher priority for our elected officials. We hope to see you at our fall convention September 14 - 16 at the Portland Marriott. We will begin with a tour by Portland International Jetport Director Paul Bradbury of the Jetport’s new terminal. The program will provide 1.5 professional development hours for those interested. The weekend will feature a Casco Bay cruise and reception, a golf tournament and tours of Portland.
We also will have our traditional lobster bake and auction. So please join us!
Again, I look forward to working with you in the next year.