TRIP Report: Road conditions deteriorating; costs growing
At a time when Maine faces an annual transportation funding shortfall of $150 million per year, Mainers are paying almost double that in added maintenance costs due to bad roads, according to a new report by The Road Information Program (TRIP), a national transportation research organization. TRIP released its report, Maine Transportation by the Numbers: Meeting the State’s Need for Safe and Efficient Mobility October 25 at a press conference at the Portland Jetport.
The report showed a marked deterioration in publicly maintained roads since it was last updated in 2009. Today, one-third of Maine’s roads are in poor or mediocre condition compared to 25 percent in 2009. (In 2005, that number was 20 percent.)
“The overall finding in the report is the state has high levels of deterioration in its roads, highways and major bridges, “ stated Frank Moretti, director of research and policy for TRIP. “Fourteen percent of the state’s bridges are structurally deficient and another 20 percent of those are functionally obsolete.”
One key finding in the report was that the extra costs that come with driving on deficient roads are being passed along to motorists in the form of higher maintenance costs. Mainers currently spend an average of $299 per year in added vehicle repairs due to bad roads compared to 2009, when TRIP last released figures about vehicle costs.
“It is clear from TRIP’s findings that every day we delay investing in our highways and bridges, we are holding up a big STOP sign on our economy,” said Doug Hermann, president of the Maine Better Transportation. He added, “Just imagine how much these bad roads are costing our businesses, considering that 81 percent of Maine goods travel over our roads.”
The report found that Maine’s most populated areas are bearing the greatest burden of bad roads. Compared with a statewide average of 30 percent poor or deficient roads, the figures are significantly higher in the Bangor (40 percent) and Portland regions (61 percent). Residents of those regions also pay the highest vehicle operating costs due to bad roads: in Portland that cost is $516 annually; in Bangor it is $375 every year. All told, TRIP reported that Maine motorists pay $301 million a year in added costs – more than double the amount MaineDOT estimates it would take over the next 10 years to address the backlog of repairs to state roads and bridges.
Overall, the state of Maine’s roads are also a big drag on Maine’s economy. “It is not [merely] a matter of importance, it is essential that we not take our eye off the value, the importance of roads, bridges and transportation. It is in so many ways the foundation of our economic system,” Dana Connors, president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, said at the press conference.
TRIP cites MaineDOT figures calling for “an additional $150 million annually over the next decade to allow the state to meet legislative goals for improving road and bridge conditions, improving traffic safety and addressing some traffic congestion challenges.” TRIP figures are based on data collected by the Federal Highway Administration and submitted by the Maine Department of Transportation (MaineDOT) on the condition of major state and locally maintained roads and highways in the state.
Moretti said the report found a third of serious traffic crashes were due to the level of safety features on the roadway. The fatality rate on Maine non-interstate rural roads is approximately seven times higher than on other roads.
“Traffic fatalities in rural Maine are happening at a rate seven times higher than on all other roads in the state,” said Moretti. “Every death in traffic out on our highways is preventable, and it is a combination of certainly driver behavior, but also it is very much the roadway safety features that are available on that roadway.”
The problem is likely to only get worse in coming years if a funding solution is not found, according to TRIP, as the anticipated percentage increase in vehicle miles of travel in Maine by the year 2030 reaches 20 percent. TRIP stopped short of recommending ways to increase funding, but said “a substantial boost” in federal, state, and local funding, possibly in the form of bonds or a gasoline tax is needed in order to improve safety, save lives and money and improve the state’s business climate.
FMI: The full report may be downloaded at www.tripnet.org