When the election season began, there were more than a few questions in play for supporters of Question 4, the $51.5 million transportation bond issue. Foremost was whether or not Maine voters, known for their strong support of transportation issues, would be swayed by the vocal anti-borrowing sentiment that has dominated state and national politics in recent years.
Now, with official election results recorded and 73 percent of voters supporting the bond, it is apparent that Mainers’ concern about crumbling infrastructure and the need for jobs trumped those arguments against borrowing. Also key was the YES on Question 4 Coalition, a group of 18 business and community organizations that came out in support of the bond issue.
“This passed by a sizable margin – and at 73 percent, it was the biggest show of voter support for transportation investment we’ve seen during the past five years,” said Maine Better Transportation Association (MBTA) President Doug Hermann. “My guess is that where voters were on the fence about the issue, hearing about job creation and federal matching funds from these community leaders did play a significant role,” he said.
The bond included $41 million for highways and bridges; $6.5 million for port infrastructure improvements in Eastport and Searsport; $2 million for capital transit investments; $1 million for the Industrial Rail Access Program (IRAP); $1.2 million for aviation facilities at Maine airports; and $300,000 for the LifeFlight Foundation for weather observation stations and helipads in rural communities. The bond funding makes Maine eligible for $105.6 million in federal, local and private matching funds.
The MBTA formed the YES on Question 4 coalition, and MBTA staff and board members did much of the heavy lifting on the public awareness campaign, recruiting coalition members, developing talking points and distributing fact sheets and speaking with the media. The coalition included several other high profile organizations, including the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, whose president, Dana Connors, emerged as the most vocal source of information about the bond during the run-up to the election. There was no organized opposition.
One week out from the election, coalition members held a press conference in Hampden at H.O. Bouchard, Inc. where several members offered their views on why the $51.5 million bond would be good for Maine. Speaking in favor of the bond were the MBTA’s Hermann, Bangor Mayor Cary Weston, Hampden Town Manager Susan Lessard, Captain David Gelinas of the Penobscot Bay and River Pilots Association, and Irvin Smith of H.O. Bouchard Inc., Maine’s largest bulk carrier.
The Associated Press reported speaker Irvin Smith of H.O. Bouchard as saying in three decades, he’d never seen Maine road and bridges in “such disrepair,” that Bouchard’s trucks travel 4.75 million miles in Maine and “every mile of bad road costs the company money.”
Lessard spoke of the positive community impact and 3,100 jobs the bond would create, as well as the backlog of repairs needed on state roads in her town of Hampden, including Routes 69 and the intersection of Routes 1A and 9 where earlier this year a tractor-trailer overturned. And she said Hampden’s “waiting list” of state roads to be repaired could be replicated “in every community across the state.”
In her comments, she said the bond issue was not a “luxury,” it was a necessity that, “if we are serious about the idea of attracting and maintaining business in Maine, whether those business are service or manufacturing or industrial, we need to improve the infrastructure. By supporting this bond issue, we also support jobs – not government jobs – but jobs of all types all over the state of Maine.”
Gelinas addressed the portion of the bond that would improve Maine ports at Searsport and Eastport, including $3 million for dredging the shipping channel at Mack Point. In his statement, he pointed out the opportunity for renewable energy products to move through our ports, is spurred by Europe’s 20/20 mandate, which requires 20 percent of power generation to come from renewable sources by the year 2020. As the closest U.S. port to Europe and serving one of the most heavily forested states in the county, the renewable energy market provides Maine a huge opportunity that can be met with increased utilization of both Eastport and Searsport.
Weston, a member of the Mayors’ Coalition on Jobs and Economic Development, talked about the importance of investing in state roads, bridges, ports, transit, rail and aviation infrastructure to keep Maine businesses competitive, citizens safe and to help create jobs.
“This bond is a fiscally responsible tool with short- and long-term benefits, that will assist with crucial needs and put projects in place to help rebuild Maine’s economy,” Weston told the press.
“The event got a lot of good press, and we hope that helped the cause,” said MBTA Executive Director Maria Fuentes. The event generated positive media coverage in the Bangor Daily News, MaineBiz, the Morning Sentinel, the Portland Press Herald, WCSH-TV, WABI, the Boston Globe and several other media outlets.
FMI: The MBTA is a non-partisan organization that, since 1939, has advocated for investment in safe, efficient transportation throughout the state of Maine. To learn more, visit www.MBTAonline.org. For membership information, call 207-622-0526.
YES on Question 4 Coalition
- Action Committee of 50
- American Council of Engineering Companies of Maine
- Associated General Contractors of Maine
- Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce
- Bicycle Coalition of Maine
- Eastport Port Authority
- LifeFlight of Maine
- Maine Aggregates Association
- Maine Automobile Dealers Association
- Maine Better Transportation Association
- Maine Innkeepers Association
- Maine Municipal Association
- Maine Section, American Society of Civil Engineers
- Maine State Chamber of Commerce
- Maine Transit Association
- Mayors’ Coalition on Jobs and Economic Development
- National Association of Women in Construction, Maine Chapter