Just in time is no way to go. Damage to second bridge in New Hampshire offers cautionary tale. By Doug Hermann.
What comes next? The Maine Turnpike Authority plans next steps for toll collection.
Statehouse report. Legislators take on transportation. By John Melrose.
Trails talks. MBTA’s Maria Fuentes talks with Transportation Committee Chairs Senator Mazurek and Representative Theriault.
Answers and questions. Economist Charles Colgan looks into Maine’s future at MBTA Cumberland meeting.
One big challenge, three views. Legislative Transportation briefing looks at big issues.
Game for the challenge. CPM Constructors wins a prestigious national award. By Kathryn Buxton.
Appreciation: Harold O. Bouchard.
Just-in-time may work for business, but not our infrastructure
“Some things we don’t have control over, such as a torrential rainfall or a ship breaking loose from its mooring. But we do have the option to be responsible and make smarter choices. We need to take better care of our infrastructure and find sustainable funding alternatives. Because just-in-time isn’t working very well for our roads and bridges – or for Maine.”
By Douglas R. Hermann, MBTA Outgoing President
We used to have three bridges connecting Maine and New Hampshire. For more than a month, recently, we were down to just one. And while the Maine and New Hampshire Departments of Transportation returned the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge back to service as soon as was possible, the problem is really much greater than one, albeit important, bridge.
The problem is this: we have adopted a just-in-time approach to taking care of our important transportation infrastructure. We wait until the last possible opportunity to fix our roads and bridges, and while that practice has many benefits for business, it puts our essential public resources – and our economy – at risk.
At the heart of the problem is how we fund maintenance and repairs to our highways and bridges. We pay for that primarily from gas tax revenues we pay to the state and federal governments, and that gas tax hasn’t been keeping up with demand. We haven’t raised the federal gas tax since 1992, and in inflation-adjusted dollars, the gas tax today generates roughly only half the revenue it did 20 years ago. We aren’t doing much better with keeping up on the state side, either. The 125th Maine Legislature removed our only hedge against inflation when they revoked indexing of the state gas tax.
Some may argue that we need to do even more with even less, but the reality is we are struggling. While we think we are saving money by not raising the gas tax or finding an alternative to properly fund critical transportation highway and bridge maintenance and repair, we aren’t. When we squeeze yet another year of use out of an aging bridge or a narrow, pothole-riddled road, we are watching future repair and replacement costs rise. When we make the decision to delay, we place an undue burden on our business and personal budgets.
Consider that bad roads currently cost the average Maine resident $300 in added maintenance costs every year. Collectively, that totals $301 million a year in added costs – double the amount MaineDOT estimates it needs in addition to current funding to fix our roads and bridges.
When we wait until the last minute to take care of these important public assets, we put our citizens and our economy at risk. The sad thing is, we’ve been here many times before. Think back to the Waldo-Hancock Bridge. A vital coastal route was closed to commercial truck traffic for months when engineers discovered weaknesses in the steel bridge cables. There was the washout that shut down Route 136 in Durham. Also recent sinkholes in Rockland and Bangor. Or even earlier this year, when the lift span on the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge became stuck for several days. That caused marine traffic to come to a halt.
When part of our aging transportation infrastructure breaks, we break out the Band-Aids – sometimes very expensive ones – patches simply designed to hold critical parts of the system together. We see the businesses that depend on our ports, roads and highways suffer, like those in Portsmouth and Kittery. Then we get back to crossing our fingers.
Some things we don’t have control over, such as a torrential rainfall, a truck hitting the bridge like what happened when the I-5 bridge collapsed in Washington state on May 22 – or a ship breaking loose from its mooring. But we do have the option to be responsible and begin to make smarter choices. We need to take better care of our infrastructure and find sustainable funding alternatives. Because just-in-time isn’t working very well for our roads and bridges – or for Maine.
In other related news, members of the MBTA Board of Directors having been calling members during the past few weeks, asking for your help with our newly launched “Fix It Now!” campaign, the outcome of nearly eight months of planning and discussion by the MBTA Funding Task Force (I wrote about in the last issue of Maine Trails). To date, several members have generously stepped up, and already we have raised nearly $35,000 toward our first-phase fundraising goal of $75,000. I would like to thank the task force members and all of the association members who have made donations to the effort so far.
We’re going to need more than money in the months and years ahead. We’re going to need you to serve as community ambassadors. This is a grassroots effort to get community and business leaders outside of the transportation industry involved in the debate, so we will need you to talk it up in your home towns and among your neighbors and friends – much as you do for voter bond campaigns. We will be developing on-line and/or mobile resources to help those outreach efforts. Keep watching this space for campaign updates. I look forward to working with you on this important grassroots effort!
This is my last column as MBTA president, and I want to thank my family, everyone at work, Maria Fuentes, her staff and, especially, all the MBTA members who have worked with me and the board of directors during this challenging year in transportation. You certainly have made this experience fun and rewarding, and it has been an honor to be your president.
What comes next?
After the successful launch of open road tolling at its New Gloucester plaza, the Maine Turnpike Authority prepares for the next chapter in toll collection
By Kathryn Buxton
On April 1, Maine Turnpike Authority marked a major achievement when the agency officially opened its first open road tolling (ORT) facility to the public at the mainline toll barrier in New Gloucester. The launch of the new technology enables travelers with E-ZPass devices to pay their tolls at that location without stopping, and it marks Maine’s entry into what many hope is a new era in toll collection.
Still, there is work to be done before the authority can move ahead with its plans to introduce the next generation of electronic tolling at other mainline plazas, according to Maine Turnpike Authority Executive Director Peter Mills. That will include a re-evaluation of plans for the Maine Turnpike’s York toll plaza and close scrutiny of the return on investment that various tolling options promise there and at other locations.
According to Mills, when the agency does begin construction on a new mainline facility, it will be at a location that fulfills criteria for safety – a long straightaway with no curves or bridges to obstruct drivers’ views.
It’s all about “decision time for drivers,” said Mills in a recent interview at Maine Turnpike Authority offices in Portland. It’s also about the decision time needed by the board of directors to weigh the benefits versus the considerable costs to engineer and construct a new electronic tolling facility with the benefits it will have for the people of Maine.
“We have no plans to do anything yet,” said Mills, who added when that decision is made, it will be at the behest of the board. “Dan Wathen [MTA board chair] will say, ‘What’s it going to cost? We need a cost-benefit analysis,’” said Mills.
Plans on hold
Mills also discussed the Maine Turnpike’s long-held plans to implement open road tolling at the York toll plaza. For more than a decade, the authority has been keen to replace the problematic old plaza – built on curve, in swampy land and sinking – with a safer, modern electronic tolling facility.
Those plans have been on hold for nearly four years due to local residents’ objections to the proposed design and location of the new toll plaza. They are likely to remain suspended for at least the next few months as the authority searches for a solution that will be more acceptable to local residents, while achieving the turnpike’s goals of modernization, efficiency, equity and traveler and employee safety.
Mills said the Maine Turnpike Authority continues to explore alternatives, and to study the volume and makeup of traffic at the plaza’s existing cash lanes, to see if the turnpike could build a structure with a smaller footprint. As it weighs its options, the authority also is reviewing other states’ systems and looking at emerging trends. Still, he said that whatever solution is found may ultimately have to be a matter of give-and-take between local interests, the turnpike and the people of Maine.
“This is a complex issue and there are powerful arguments on both sides,” said Mills. “The most important part of my job is to keep an open mind to make sure my board has the information they need to make a decision.”
One of the issues is about toll equity and the potential revenue loss from non-E-ZPass drivers if Maine opts for an all-electronic tolling plaza. The issue of toll equity is, he said, “a political issue” the authority has been trying to address through its recent reciprocity agreement with New Hampshire and Massachusetts.
Maine currently has no such agreement with Canada or the other 47 states, and some say that could make a move to all-electronic toll collection (AET) problematic.
“Thirty-eight percent of our customers in York pay by cash and in August, seven percent of those are Canadian,” said Mills. “If we were to go to AET in York now, some believe we would do so on the backs of Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts drivers because we have no enforcement power over those other drivers.”
“We do have enforcement reciprocity with New Hampshire and Massachusetts that is encouraging both of those states to move to AET,” Mills said in follow-up comments.
He added: “When you add up the traffic from New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Maine, for both E-ZPass and cash, you have accounted for most of the car traffic that travels through Maine. The question is: When will it be practical to make an AET transition?”
The uncertainty about where, when and what new technology will be introduced at the remaining mainline plazas has ramifications for the authority’s long-term plans for all of its toll infrastructure – specifically for the aging technology that enables the organization to collect tolls electronically via E-ZPass transponders. Taking care of that technology as it reaches the end of its anticipated life cycle has risen to the top of the turnpike’s priorities as it has become more apparent that the implementation of new toll technology will take longer to roll out.
The issue, as Mills explained it, is one of obsolescence. The technology installed when the turnpike first introduced the E-ZPass system more than eight years ago has become outdated. That system includes a series of metal treadles that count axles as vehicles pass through the toll plaza and the computers that process the data collected. The treadles are vulnerable to harsh New England weather, and the beating they take from heavy traffic and snow plows. The treadles require “significant maintenance and impact customers when lanes have to be closed for repair,” according to Walter Fagerlund of HNTB, senior technical advisor and project manager for both the New Gloucester ORT and system-wide toll replacement projects.
Revamping side tolls
The turnpike’s next generation toll system, said Fagerlund, includes more durable metal loops buried in concrete under the road. That system was deployed at the New Gloucester site and is expected to eventually replace the old treadle technology for the entire length of the highway. So, while the authority waits on plans to overhaul toll collection at its barrier plazas, the agency plans to roll in the new technology at its side tolls, stockpiling the old hardware and using it as replacement parts in an effort to keep the old system going as long as possible.
“We’re in a situation where we’re basically cannibalizing our existing stock of equipment to keep the old system going,” said Mills.
Operating a toll system with the old technology while introducing new technology has been a challenge of its own, according to Fagerlund. He described the steps, including system integration and testing to make sure the two systems work together.
“Maine’s legacy system and the new system [at New Gloucester] had to be designed to speak the same language back to the turnpike’s central systems,” said Fagerlund. He said the turnpike two years ago began the process by swapping out the old system for the new one that included the in-ground loop sensors at a single toll lane at New Gloucester. The new system was tested extensively to ensure full and accurate integration.
Mills noted that the new technology also impacts cash collection. The turnpike is currently testing replacement equipment used in cash toll collection, including touch screen computers for toll collectors.
Mills’ office said that plans are to stretch out the complete system replacement over the next seven years. In all, the upgrade is expected to cost approximately $24 million for equipment and construction to complete, in addition to engineering costs. The end result, said Mills, is a new system designed to be flexible and leave the door open for an eventual shift to AET.
“The environment [of electronic tolling] is shifting so rapidly,” said Mills. “We have decided we are not making any changes that are inconsistent with all-electronic tolling.”
Turnpike officials told Maine Trails there has been no specific board meeting scheduled to discuss York and possibilities for an updated toll structure, but they expect the authority board will look at the issue again within the coming months. And even though Mills cannot yet say where or when Maine will have its next new mainline toll facility, he is unequivocal in his praise for the new technology at New Gloucester and the benefits it has produced for Maine people and businesses. Chief among them are savings for the turnpike’s commercial customers. He said that with 80 percent of the commercial traffic at the plaza using E-ZPass, businesses are seeing substantial savings in their fuel costs and concurrent reductions in harmful emissions.
“Poland Spring has told me it saves them a quarter of a gallon of diesel fuel every time they go through the plaza because they don’t have to slow down. That’s a savings of about a dollar per 18-wheeler,” said Mills. With 4,000 trucks using the New Gloucester toll plaza every day, he estimates, Maine businesses will save $1.4 million on fuel every year.
When the talk turns back to York, Mills admitted to a sense of urgency felt by his board as it looks at a long-term strategy and how to provide the best, most cost-effective service for its customers. Savings like users are experiencing in New Gloucester are as compelling a reason as efficiency or safety to move forward on a new toll facility at York.
“People in York ask us: ‘What’s your hurry? The sky hasn’t fallen and every day brings us closer to all electronic toll collection,’” said Mills. He said they don’t see what the Maine Turnpike is dealing with – “aging electronics and a crusty old plaza that is sinking into the ground” – nor are they recognizing that the delay is costing the people of Maine.
Still, Mills said he has learned a lot during discussions and study of the issue and believes that a mutually acceptable solution is possible in York, “if we can construct a toll plaza that will not require us to take homes. . . and that will have minimal environmental impact.”
FMI: Learn more about E-ZPass and electronic tolling at www.MaineTurnpike.com.
Statehouse Report: Legislators take on transportation
Budgets, bonds, public-private partnerships, tolling and a sales tax on motor fuel highlight the transportation issues receiving the attention of the first session of the 126th Maine Legislature.
By John Melrose
With the legislative session moving into the final stretch, the Transportation Committee was on the job holding hearings on all of the 106 bills coming before them and reporting out of committee most of those bills by mid-May. Still, some heavy lifting lay ahead with the Highway Fund budget, which was officially unveiled on May 14, a relatively late start for the transportation budget process.
As Maine Trails was going to press, there has been no action from the Appropriations Committee on 30 general fund bond proposals including several relating to transportation investment. MBTA’s focus is on LD 942, a $120 million transportation bond sponsored by Transportation Committee Co-Chair Senator Ed Mazurek.
Of interest also to MBTA, is Governor LePage’s proposed transportation bond of $100 million, sponsored by Senator Pat Flood as LD 1095. There are many similarities between the two proposals but the big difference is that LD 942 invests $17 million more in highway rehabilitation and reconstruction. Bridge investment is set at $31 million in LD 942 and $30 million in LD 1095. Both bonds fund marine, rail, aviation and transit investments. LD 942 also sets aside funding of $1.5 million for pedestrian and bicycle facilities.
The committee voted down an $80 million GARVEE (grant anticipation revenue vehicle) bond proposal sponsored by Senator Mazurek (LD 492) and advanced by MBTA. Still, a GARVEE may come up again during budget negotiations. The GARVEE and general obligation funds together would help fulfill the legislature’s commitment to improve more than 300 miles of Priority 1 and 2 highways to fair or better condition by 2022. Priority 1 and 2 highways represent only 11 percent of all public roads but they carry 53 percent of all the traffic in Maine.
Taking Up the Budget
LD 1480, the proposed Highway Fund budget for the upcoming biennium, was heard on May 14. MBTA testified in support of the budget, but encouraged the Transportation Committee to do more. A primary motivation behind MBTA’s support is that, for the first time, the budget complies with the requirements of the Maine Constitution by properly allocating the cost of the State Police between the Highway Fund and the General Fund. This correction releases roughly $15 million in the biennium to support transportation.
This change takes on added importance given the recent Highway Fund revenue reforecast which downgraded 2014/2015 revenues by roughly $7.8 million. This downgrade was not known when the budget was prepared.
The budget also funds a 600-mile annual rate of maintenance paving. While MBTA recognizes that this treatment is minimal and short lived, it is essential if the state is unwilling to commit to more substantive improvements to the thousands of miles of substandard state aid highways now under MaineDOT jurisdiction. Not so long ago, the legislature was unwilling to even commit to a sufficient maintenance paving program.
This proposed budget provides the most comprehensive presentation ever of funding for all modes. The budget bill gives a much more comprehensive budgetary view and allows the Transportation Committee a better opportunity to appreciate the relative benefits to be realized with an expenditure in one mode or the other.
MBTA takes exception to Part D of the proposed budget that would redefine “capital investment” for the use of funds set aside in the Maine Municipal Bond Bank from 10 years to just five. MBTA believes “capital” should remain defined as investments having a useful life of at least 10 years. The legislature has twice before defeated this idea, and in its testimony, MBTA urged them to do so again.
It is important to note that MaineDOT’s recently released three-year work plan assumes $151.5 million in general obligation bonding. That includes the $51.5 million bond passed by voters last year and the $100 million transportation bond proposed by Governor LePage earlier this year. (See the Work Plan charts for plan details or visit www.MaineDOT.gov.)
Toll Increases, East-West Highway
While MBTA typically focuses on transportation finance matters during the legislative session, the organization’s board and leadership closely follow other issues of interest. This session, a host of bills were generated by the recent MTA toll increases. In the end, none of the worrisome aspects of these bills passed.
Similarly, many bills were introduced regarding the much-discussed east-west highway and relating to public-private partnerships. Again, the bills of greatest concern to MBTA were defeated or amended to remove concerns.
The Taxation Committee defeated Representative Ann People’s LD 614, that would transition a portion of the per gallon motor fuel excise tax to a retail sales tax. MBTA hoped this bill could be used as a vehicle for generating new Highway Fund revenue. Virginia and Maryland have passed similar measures this year that are expected to increase those states’ transportation revenues considerably.
As in other legislative sessions, the funding issues of most interest to MBTA members will be taken up by the legislature at the end of the session, scheduled to adjourn on June 19. Time will tell if the pressing issues of the session, including paying back hospitals, the General Fund and Highway Fund budgets and the bond issues will be resolved by then.
MBTA’s Maria Fuentes talks about transportation with Senator Edward Mazurek (D-Knox County) and Representative Charles ‘Ken’ Theriault (D-Madawaska), chairs of the 126th Maine Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Transportation.
Maria Fuentes: When your constituents talk to you about transportation, what do they most often talk you about?
Senator Mazurek: Roads. When constituents travel to work, to the grocery store or to their kids’ school on roads covered in potholes and frost heaves, they know what it is doing to their vehicles. They don’t care that some roads are maintained by the state and some by the town, they just know that they need to be fixed.
Representative Theriault: Basically, it is always the condition of the roads. We may not have as many roads in Aroostook County as others and we don’t have an interstate, and I certainly do hear about that. However, MaineDOT has fixed U.S. Route 1 between Grand Isle and Keegan, and I have been getting a lot of kudos on that. It used to have a “ski jump” on it and truckers were very concerned because they would get pulled to the side. The other thing would be your port of entry – the bridge between Madawaska and Edmunston, New Brunswick – it is the second busiest port in the state and it is not getting any attention.
Fuentes: The Maine Legislature identified 19 percent of all public roads as the highest priority roads, because they carry 70 percent of all traffic. Of those roads, 1,472 miles or 34 percent are in poor or unacceptable condition. The Legislature agreed to bring these roads up to at least fair condition. What would be a reasonable time frame for meeting this commitment?
Senator Mazurek: If we’re being honest, with the current level of funding they won’t all be fixed. We don’t have the money to maintain roads at current condition, let alone bring them all up to fair condition. We need to address the funding gap. One of the bills I introduced this session is to form a commission to specifically look at the funding of our transportation infrastructure and what we need to do to ensure long-term sufficient funding for maintenance and improvement projects.
Representative Theriault: We should probably be looking in 10-year time frames since it will probably take at least that. The funding for roads and infrastructure is just inadequate – it is not getting any better.
Fuentes: According to national statistics, the performance of Maine’s State Highway System has slipped from 15th in the nation to 32nd in the last decade. One in every six Maine bridges is considered structurally deficient. MaineDOT says they need another $150 million a year in capital funding to reverse these statistics. Where should this funding come from?
Senator Mazurek: As the saying goes, bridges are like people. They have a life span of roughly 80 years. It is now 2013 and about 80 years ago the federal government was pumping money into highway and bridge projects nationwide. Now, we have a growing number of bridges in need of repair. We need to prioritize fixing existing infrastructure, but even so the current gap in funding is not acceptable. At the end of the day our funding sources are limited and those who use the roads will have to pay for their maintenance. No one wants to raise tolls, but the other option is closing roads and bridges when they become unsafe.
Representative Theriault: This is the question of all questions. Our main source of funding is the gas tax, and that is unable to keep us afloat. As we all know, the better mileage with the cars being more efficient is hurting us a great deal. The other thing that is very troublesome is the cost of maintaining the roads and bridges and certainly, the cost of building new roads is astronomical. We have a number of things working against us, and one of our goals should be to find alternative funding sources. Maybe we should be looking at vehicle miles traveled – something for the future.
Fuentes: Federal fuel taxes have not been raised since 1993 and the federal highway trust fund is no longer self-sufficient. One underlying issue is whether it is best to support transportation with user fees or rely on general funds. What is your philosophy on this issue?
Senator Mazurek: My philosophy is that the old funding sources will not be sufficient and we have to look at fresh ideas for funding. User fees should be seriously looked at, and I feel that the more you use our roads the more you should pay for them.
Representative Theriault: From what I have read, the cost of transportation for our nation is $170 billion per year. The General Fund doesn’t have the money to take care of its own responsibilities, such as revenue sharing, which is critical for all the towns in the state. Unfortunately, our roads and bridges need fixing, but the Highway Fund takes a back seat to the needs of the General Fund.
We may eventually have to move to strictly a user fee, perhaps something that can work with the new technologies.
Fuentes: The Highway Fund pays 49 percent of the State Police budget, even though the State Police only uses 33 percent of its time on transportation-related matters. The Governor’s Biennial Budget brings the percentage down to 33 percent, to reflect the actual time, as the constitution demands. Do you support this element of Governor LePage’s budget?
Senator Mazurek: We cannot slash the funding that the State Police receive from the Highway Fund without somehow making up for that loss. As long as the State Police budget remains whole, then I would support the shift.
Representative Theriault: The governor‘s budget wants to bring it down to 33 percent, and I would support that.
Fuentes: Do you support sending a transportation bond to the voters to fund highways, bridges, ports, buses, airports, rail and trails?
Senator Mazurek: Absolutely. In fact I have a bill in this session, LD 942, for a $120 million bond issue that, if approved by the legislature, would go to Maine voters. Not only would the revenue raised by the bonds contribute to significant infrastructure improvements, but it would be matched by another $173 million for additional improvements.
Furthermore, I believe it is imperative that the governor release the bonds that have already been approved by the people of Maine.
Representative Theriault: Yes. I always support transportation bonds; since voters make that decision, it puts them in the driver’s seat.
Fuentes: A grant anticipation revenue vehicle (GARVEE) bond for highways and bridge investment is financed exclusively through the commitment of future federal revenues. Under what circumstances do you think this is a good way to finance our needs?
Senator Mazurek: GARVEEs are a great source of funding for maintaining current and building new roads. In addition to the bond bill I previously mentioned, I have also submitted a bill to authorize a GARVEE bond this session.
Representative Theriault: I believe a GARVEE bond should go to something extraordinary, like when the ship got loose and damaged the bridge between Kittery and Portsmouth, New Hampshire. A GARVEE should go to a major artery or a major bridge that would cause the economy to suffer or commerce to suffer if we don’t have the finances to cover it. I would like GARVEEs used only for extraordinary projects and major needs.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Since this interview, the Transportation Committee voted to discuss a GARVEE bond only in the context of the Highway Fund budget.)
Fuentes: Poor roads cost more to Maine drivers in car repairs than they pay in state gas taxes. They also cause one-third of all vehicle accidents and limit the use by truckers of nearly 25 percent of all state roads during the spring thaw. What is the balance you would strike between paying to fix our roads and bridges and passing costs off onto users by not keeping the system in better repair?
Senator Mazurek: We do not have a choice. We either have to close roads and bridges or ask Mainers to contribute more to their repair. It is important to note that our infrastructure is key to our economic growth. No one wants to pay more, but if we have to close transportation corridors due to their poor condition, then the Maine economy will suffer, and make it harder on all Mainers.
Representative Theriault: Like I said, we should use GARVEES for more long-term projects, and save scarce tax dollars for shorter-term fixes.
Fuentes: Maine’s gas tax is set at 31.5 cents per gallon. A pickup truck getting 15 miles per gallon pays 2.1 cents to travel a mile, but a Prius getting 45 miles per gallon pays one-third that amount to travel a mile. How would you address this growing inequity built into the current motor fuel tax?
Senator Mazurek: Buying a vehicle is the consumer’s choice. If someone is concerned about the fuel costs and gas taxes associated with a pickup truck than perhaps they should consider switching to a Prius. It makes sense that those vehicles that emit more carbon and have a greater impact on our environment pay more in gas tax. It is an incentive for our motor vehicles owners to make better decisions for our environment.
Representative Theriault: This leads us back to the question about the user fee. One of the things that is hurting funding for transportation is the fact that cars are getting better mileage. What should replace that funding mechanism? That is a discussion we need to have.
Fuentes: The last legislature repealed motor fuel tax indexing. While income and sales taxes grow with inflation, now the motor fuel tax will not. Should this decision be revisited?
Senator Mazurek: I believe it should. Fuel tax indexing served a purpose. Not only does a dollar buy less over time with inflation, but the number of cars and trucks we have on our roads grows over time, too, which causes faster wear and tear to our infrastructure. This will exacerbate our funding challenges.
Representative Theriault: Some might say we need to raise the gas tax, but in my area, it would not be popular because the cost of fuel is 20 cents higher up north. If things don’t change and we don’t have a new user fee or something of that nature, we may be forced to look at fuel taxes again.
Fuentes: As we negotiate with New Hampshire over sharing the cost of bridge construction between our two states, do you think we should ask New Hampshire to pay for the cost of their residents using the Downeaster that Maine is presently financing?
Senator Mazurek: I do think we should ask New Hampshire to contribute to the costs of the Downeaster. I believe the popularity of public transportation, like the Downeaster, will grow over time, but because it serves a regional purpose, I think it is fair to expect them to contribute as well. I am going on 10 years on the Transportation Committee, and the reason Maine carries this burden still eludes me.
Representative Theriault: Yes, sure. Since many people in New Hampshire use the service, they should pay for part of the subsidies. That is only fair.
Fuentes: Maine made a major investment in saving freight rail service to Aroostook by entering into a public-private partnership. Are you encouraged with the results of this partnership so far?
Senator Mazurek: Generally speaking, I feel positive about the attention Maine is giving rail service. I think the results of this project are promising, and as I have said, I believe alternative modes of transportation, such as rail, are going to grow in popularity, and as they do, I expect this project will become even more appreciated.
Representative Theriault: Yes, absolutely. It has worked very well. I see it every time I leave the County to come down to Augusta. I see cars on the rails that I didn’t see previously. In some cases, the traffic has doubled and almost tripled. It was a great investment.
Fuentes: Beyond highway investments what are your priorities for improving passenger and freight transportation?
Senator Mazurek: We have to improve service, we must demand adherence to departure and arrival times and on consistent schedules and availability for all rail service.
Representative Theriault: Passenger transportation: we are looking at trying to work on a section of rail between Portland and Brunswick. Perhaps the next area would be to extend passenger rail to Auburn. For freight, the bigger need seems to be in connecting rail to businesses.
Fuentes: What do you most hope to accomplish this session? What priority issues will you urge the committee to take up this session?
Senator Mazurek: My goal this session is to find a way to maintain our transportation infrastructure at its current level and to prevent further deterioration of their condition. This means I want to see more maintenance and repair being done as our roads and bridges age, and that ultimately means we have to increase funding. There is not one answer to fixing our infrastructure, but if we don’t, we know it will have a negative impact on the economy.
Representative Theriault: It is my goal just to keep ourselves afloat. We are just hanging on, hoping that at some point, when we get the budget, which is extremely important, we will be in better financial shape. Of course, we need to pass a balanced budget. Regarding priority issues, a lot of issues that we have had are safety related, like the use of cell phones and our speed limits. My priorities are really to make sure that we maintain our infrastructure to the best that we can, given the limited resources that we have, from one end of the state to the other – wherever it is most needed.
If there were one project I could get done, it would be the border crossing in Madawaska. We should figure out a way to export more of our Maine products, which means we must have efficient border crossings. We are in the midst of repairing one in Van Buren, which is important for commerce, and it is getting a lot of attention, even though it is not our busiest port. And finally, an extension of I-95 is long overdue, from Houlton to Presque Isle, at least.
FMI: Watch for interviews with other Transportation Committee interview in future issues of Maine Trails.
Answers and questions
Economist tackles big questions, warns of consequences of transportation decline at MBTA Cumberland County Meeting
If you have to get bad news, you’d want it given to you the way University of Southern Maine economist Dr. Charles Colgan delivers it: in plain English with plenty of empathy and dry humor. Colgan was the featured speaker at the 2013 MBTA Cumberland County Meeting, March 14 at the Portland Marriott Hotel in South Portland.
The meeting is one of several regional issues forums held every year by the Maine Better Transportation Association, and it began with MBTA President Doug Hermann welcoming the collection of MBTA members, family and friends in the audience. The audience also included state and local politicians: Representative Andrew MacLean (D-Gorham), a freshman member of the Maine Legislature’s Joint Committee on Transportation, and Representative Ben Chipman (I-Portland). Local communities were also well represented at the meeting with officials from Gorham, Portland, Saco and Cape Elizabeth attending.
Hermann spoke about ongoing efforts by the MBTA Board of Directors, including support for two transportation bond proposals currently under consideration at the state house: a $120 million general fund bond issue and an $80 million GARVEE bond (grant anticipation revenue vehicle), both sponsored by Transportation Committee Chair Senator Edward Mazurek (D-Knox County). He mentioned the board’s Funding Task Force that is launching a fundraising effort for a long-term grassroots campaign to raise public and legislative support for transportation investment (you can read more about that in “Fix It Now!,” also in this edition of Maine Trails).
And then Colgan stepped up to the podium.
Begin at the end
Dr. Colgan, who holds the Russell Chair of Education and Philosophy at the University of Southern Maine, began his talk where most presentations end, with an extended question-and-answer session. In fact, Colgan first took on the big questions that were on nearly everyone’s mind.
“Is the recession over?”
Colgan’s answer: “No.”
“Is Maine’s economy finally moving ahead?”
“I don’t know,” said Colgan leaning into the microphone. He cited federal and state employment figures that showed how many jobs were lost at the peak of the recession: 8 million jobs in the U.S. and 30,000 jobs in Maine. Nationally, we have regained slightly more than half of those jobs, but in Maine, we are only 2,000 jobs ahead of 2009. He estimated that based on current data, it will take Maine another 20 months to return to pre-recession employment levels. That means, while it will take the U.S an estimated 78 months to recover, Maine’s economy is on a slower track, with the recovery extending 93 months. And Maine is not alone, according to Colgan. The entire region’s recovery is lagging.
Transportation and other trends
His next question was, “What’s happening to transportation in the recovery?” And that was where Colgan pointed to the ambiguities that are at the heart of the struggling economy. On the upside, trucking employment is rebounding, and Americans are buying more new cars. On a less positive note, he spoke about soft transportation wages in New England and weak economic markers that remain volatile with the exception of a few recent peaks. Also, one key marker of the transportation economy, vehicle miles traveled, has dropped off dramatically, particularly in rural areas. That, he said, will have long-term ramifications, negatively impacting fuel tax revenues, the major source of revenue for road and bridge repairs.
Colgan also touched on several other trends that promise to have a lasting effect on the state, including a dramatic shift in population growth away from suburban areas to urban centers such as Bangor, Lewiston, Portland and South Portland.
“Cities are beginning to grow for the first time in 40 years,” said Colgan.
He also talked about patterns of job growth that during the past two years have seen the majority of new jobs being created in the private sector, largely because state and local governments have been hard hit by budget cuts.
The power of politics
He wrapped up his talk with a look at the power politics holds over the economy and how political strife and the inability of parties to forge compromise threatens to further restrain Maine and the national economy.
With the sequester now in place, Colgan noted that airports would be one of the first areas in the transportation sector to feel the reach of the automatic federal spending cuts passed by the last Congress (those cuts affecting air traffic control operations at regional airports kicked in in mid-April of this year). He noted that public sector jobs would continue to decline as more federal cuts from the sequester began to take hold.
And then he asked the question everybody has been asking: “Will we get out of this budget mess?”
His answer and his 2013 economic forecast in a nutshell: “I don’t think so,” was not particularly positive either.
“We are facing the biggest divide in American politics since the Civil War, and that didn’t turn out too well,” said Colgan, adding the political impasse that is currently having a devastating impact on the economy only promises to become even more rancorous as Congress takes up the topic of the debt ceiling and other contentious issues.
At that, Colgan projected an image of a bag of cold patch asphalt on the screen and warned of the consequences of becoming “The United States of Cold Patch” if our leaders do not find a way to make difficult decisions about funding public infrastructure and other essential services.
“What is going to happen? Are we going to get out of this mess?” asked Colgan closing out his remarks. “I don’t think so.”
The evening closed with announcement of the 50/50 Raffle winner. John Harbottle of the Rowley Agency took home the cash prize: $190 (another $190 went to the MBTA’s scholarship fund).
FMI: The MBTA holds annual regional meetings in South Portland, Augusta, Presque Isle and Eastport. For more information, visit www.MBTAonline.org.
One big challenge, three views
Legislative briefing provides perspectives on state transportation funding
The three speakers at Maine’s Transportation Challenge: A Legislative Briefing on April 2 at the Senator Inn brought three distinct perspectives to the issues facing Maine’s transportation industry. One perspective offered by MaineDOT showed steps the department is taking to cope with diminished funding levels. Another, provided by the Maine Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), offered a glimpse of roads and bridges that have seen little improvement over the past four years. The third view came from within the legislature itself and the barriers that exist to both short- and long-term efforts to fix Maine’s roads and bridges.
The event was sponsored by the Maine Better Transportation Association, in partnership with AGC Maine, ASCE Maine, and the American Council of Engineering Companies of Maine. More than 100 people attended the event, including over 40 legislators currently serving at the Maine State House.
The legislative challenge
The first view of Maine’s transportation challenge was offered by Senator Edward Mazurek (R-Knox County), chair of the Maine Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Transportation. He talked about what Maine needs – more jobs to help boost the state’s stagnating economy, as well as much needed investment in aging roads and bridges that form the backbone of the state’s transportation network. He spoke about the legislative challenges caused by voters, the legislature and the governor working at cross purposes, specifically Maine Governor Paul LePage holding back $113 million in voter approved transportation bonds.
“Maine has a $150 million gap between what is required to minimally maintain our roads and what we actually spend on our roads. This must change. And in fact, it can change…today,” said Chairman Mazurek. “One positive and meaningful step forward would be to release the bonds already approved by voters. Sitting and awaiting the governor’s ‘okay’ is $113 million dollars in funds that will fix our roads, strengthen our bridges.”
Mazurek said by not approving the bonds, the governor was holding up the state’s economic recovery, because that funding “would support 3,200 jobs in the construction industry, an industry where the unemployment rate hovers around 25 percent and where 10,000 Mainers are currently unemployed. Make no mistake; the governor has had, in some cases, over 700 days to release some of these bonds.”
The chair also talked about what is ahead for the legislature as the Transportation and Appropriations committees work out their final recommendations on several transportation bond proposals yet to be resolved. Those include a $100 million proposal put forward by the governor and a $120 million package Mazurek has sponsored.
The daily challenge
MaineDOT Commissioner David Bernhardt offered the Department of Transportation’s view of the state’s transportation challenge, one that he described as making do with limited funding resources. He spoke about the department’s new three-year work plan that relies on a new prioritization method based on highway corridor priorities and customer service levels that would allocate funding to areas that serve the greatest number of users.
“Our new strategic plan is different from our work plans of the past,” said Bernhardt. “It’s customer focused and about getting things done with our available resources.”
Bernhardt spoke of the work plan, which incorporates the performance measures implemented by the department over the past three years and focuses on “getting the work out on time.” That effort, he said, has been increasingly successful with MaineDOT achieving on-time completion of its projects at a rate of 78 percent the first year, 85 percent during the second and 89 percent during the department’s most recent year operating under performance measures – rates significantly higher than other states in northern New England, including New Hampshire (currently at 59 percent) and Vermont (49 percent).
“And we believe we will get better,” said Bernhardt. Achieving what the department has promised it would achieve, is a key step to building trust with the public. Goodwill for MaineDOT will be important as the department struggles with ever-tighter budgets. Bernhardt noted the new three-year plan, which represents $1.1 billion in spending over its duration, represents a 2.3 percent reduction in funding. He said MaineDOT is coping with those reductions by slimming its staffing levels – the department has eliminated 340 full-time positions in recent years – and relying on remaining staff to “do as much or more than we have ever done before.”
Bernhardt talked about a redoubled effort to earn the public trust that is echoed in the department’s mission statement displayed on the back of MaineDOT’s fleet of maintenance vehicles.
“Integrity, competence and service,” said Bernhardt. “It’s on the back of all of our vehicles.”
The long-term challenge
Will Haskell, president of the Maine Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers (Maine ASCE), addressed the long-term challenges facing Maine transportation. He put the challenge in context of the updated Maine Infrastructure Report Card recently issued by his organization. In that report, Maine’s roads received a dismal ranking of D, showing no improvement in the four years since the group issued its first report card.
Haskell noted that, while the report card also rated state bridges, railroads, ports, transit and airports, the lack of progress in improving state roads is particularly troubling.
“The big one is roads,” said Haskell. “A ‘D’ is not acceptable.”
He noted that every day, Maine’s roads get rougher and cost drivers more money – by latest estimate Mainers pay an extra $300 in car repairs and other costs due to bad roads. “That’s money out of everyone’s pockets and that doesn’t need to happen.”
It was the long-term challenge of fixing Maine’s roads and bridges that Senator Mazurek also brought attention to, including the need to find a sustainable way to fund infrastructure maintenance and repairs. In that light, he said he is sponsoring a bill that would form a commission to specifically look at the funding needs of our state’s infrastructure and to provide a report on how we can ensure adequate funding for our future.
Even Bernhardt, whose comments remained largely focused on MaineDOT’s current work plan, admitted that there were significant challenges facing his department because of uncertainty in the long-term transportation funding picture.
“We need to be looking ahead at 2015 when the federal Highway Trust Fund dries up,” said Bernhardt. He noted that among his colleagues, the most talked about proposals include either increasing the gas tax, expanding highway tolling or implementing a mileage user fee such as a VMT tax.
“We don’t have a silver bullet,” said Bernhardt. “But I do know we have to convince our customers that this need is real, and that is our most difficult job.”
Game for the challenge
CPM Constructors takes home a prestigous Build America Award for the first-of-its-kind tidal power generation project in Cobscook Bay
By Kathryn Buxton
To hear Peter Krakoff and Paul Koziell tell it, coping with the bitter wind cutting through the Martin’s Point Bridge job site on a recent spring morning is nothing compared to running a construction site from a barge a mile offshore in far downeast Maine.
Still, Krakoff and Koziell admit the project currently underway, constructing a replacement bridge to connect Portland and Falmouth, has presented its share of challenges – relatively high traffic levels on an active construction site, challenging specs and close public scrutiny of the project by residents of the two communities linked by the bridge.
And of course, that scrutiny began long before CMP Constructors lifted a single shovel on the project. So, noted Krakoff, when there is a change of plans, when someone wants to change the type of barrier, increase lighting or change specs for railing, the challenge is managing expectations on the part of all the parties and keeping the project on time and within budget. The bridge serves nearly 16,000 vehicles a day, as well as sport fishermen, cyclists and runners. Cost is a key factor on the project: CPM and its partner on the project, Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, were the lowest of five bidders. Their winning bid for $23.5 million was more than $2 million below the next lowest bid and nearly $17 million under the highest bid submitted, according to MaineDOT.
“Everyone comes to a project with a list of wishes and needs,” said Krakoff of the design-build project that broke ground last fall. “Our challenge has been to work within the framework given to us by MaineDOT to deliver the best bridge possible within cost.”
If Krakoff’s analysis of the Martin’s Point Bridge project appears to be tightly scripted, the support for the bridge’s design, has been enthusiastic. The design includes two traffic lanes, as well as a 10-and-a-half-foot-wide multiuse pathway for cyclists, pedestrians and runners and platforms for fishermen. “It looks like it’s going to be great,” Bicycle Coalition of Maine Communications Director Brian Allenby told the Portland Press Herald in a story about the final design unveiled to the public.
One year ago
One year ago, CPM had a very different challenge in its sights, a project that brought the company not only local, but national acclaim. CPM was on location in Eastport, building the first of what is hoped to be a series of tidal turbines for Ocean Renewable Power Company (ORPC), an innovative energy generation company located in Cobscook Bay. Earlier this year, the project was cited for a Build America Award from the Association of General Contractors of America and a Build Maine Award from the organization’s local chapter, AGC Maine.
Koziell and Krakoff said that CPM, which has been constructing bridges and other marine infrastructure projects since its founding in 1985, relished the challenge. “Most marine infrastructure projects typically are found in calm, protected locations. This project called for the opposite,” said Krakoff.
The real challenge, said Krakoff, was beginning from scratch with an idea to build something that never had been built before. “In most jobs, a builder gets a set of specs, but for this one we wrote our own set of specs. ORPC basically said, ‘How are you going to do this?,’” said Krakoff.
The project was actually spread between three sites: fabrication of components for the 93,000-lb. base support frame and chassis took place on land in Newport, Maine; the components were assembled on shore in Eastport; and finally, the tidal generation unit (TGU) and its base structure was towed out to the third and final location, a mile off shore in open water. It was that location that provided the project’s greatest challenge.
There Koziell said, CPM crews faced just about everything nature could throw at them: water temperatures ranging from 38°- 51° F from March to September 2012; 20-foot tides; pea soup fogs; rough seas, changeable New England weather and ocean currents running at up to six knots per hour.
Krakoff said those conditions, and in particular, the region’s famously strong, high tides, necessitated a rigorously scripted construction schedule during which crews, including hardhat divers, had only 45 minutes at slack tide to complete critical project tasks when the ocean current slowed to just 1 knot.
“This was a real challenge, and it easily captured our attention full-time,” recounted Koziell. He said that everyone on the project pulled together to contribute. “There were about 15 people on the crew at any one time – from crane operators and the boat captain, mechanics and riggers to the foreman and the divers – all sitting around brainstorming to get it done. It really was a team effort and everybody stepped up and everybody’s input was important.”
The brief window for underwater construction required crews to perform a comprehensive “dress rehearsal” for each major event. Those tasks included: driving 10 70-foot pilings into the bay floor to support the base structure and turbine unit; laying the 4,000 feet of data and electrical cable underwater that would connect the turbines to the electrical grid; placing and bolting the base structure to the pilings; and lowering and securing the turbine to the base. As construction on the project continued through the summer, crews became increasingly adept working underwater and within the time constraints set by Mother Nature, eventually being able to drive two piles from the barge within one day.
“Projects like the Cobscook Bay are few and far between,” said CPM CEO Eldon Morrison who founded the company in 1985. “I am proud to say our team overcame the project’s many unique challenges using creativity and Maine ingenuity.”
An eye for talent
The company started, like so many success stories, as a one-man operation and succeeded thanks to Morrison’s gritty determination and sharp business acumen and his ability to attract topnotch talent. Foremost on that list of talent is Morrison’s long-time partner and former MBTA President Millard Pray who retired in 2008 after 23 years with the company (Pray is a former MBTA president and has a named scholarship in his honor, established through a generous donation by Morrison and supported by donations from fellow MBTA members). Both Morrison and Pray were born in Maine – Morrison grew up in Perry and Pray in Belgrade – and the company they built together certainly is marked by a particularly Yankee brand of pragmatism and creativity.
“Eldon and Millard had different styles, but they both were 100 percent dedicated to the company and its employees and to advancing the industry,” said MBTA Executive Director Maria Fuentes who has known and worked with both on advocacy issues.
Krakoff, who has played an instrumental role in the company’s growth and success, joined the firm in 1989 is another key hire. His attention to detail and knowledge of the construction process has made him invaluable not only to CPM, but to MaineDOT, and he frequently is called to consult for the department on constructability of various projects.
Morrison attributes his success as an entrepreneur to the example set by his father, who by turns was a farmer, a fisherman and a gift store owner. His unique management style has left an indelible mark on the company that places a high value on individual contributions. He describes his hands-off management style this way: “You hire good people, and you let them work.”
“We’re non-structured. It doesn’t matter what your job title is, you’re given a lot of autonomy, and you do what needs to be done,” said Koziell. He noted that succeeding within the company culture is easier for some than others. “Some people flourish, and some fail miserably.”
CPM recently marked another milestone with Koziell, Tim Ouellette, and Stacey Morrison, Eldon’s daughter, taking over ownership of the company. Eldon holds the position of chief executive officer for the company. Koziell and Ouellette oversee the day-to-day operations, aided by a team of talented construction professionals, including Bruce Surek, Andrew Kittredge, Andrew MacPherson, Joseph Ricci and Sean Griffin. Other key personnel include a core of experienced superintendents – Wade Keith, Bob Cote, Danny Veno and Rusty Clement – who together represent more than 75 years with the company and “help form the backbone of the company,” according to Koziell.
The benefit of placing such a high value on common sense and creativity has earned the company a solid roster of high profile infrastructure projects that have seen CPM thrive during the recent recession that has taken a disproportionate toll on the construction industry. CPM has been able to keep its core staff of 100 busy on projects including work for Central Maine Power’s transmission system upgrade; a series of bridge rehabilitations on I-295; rehabilitation of a stretch of Route 1 in Wells; the Eastern Trail Pedestrian Bridge over the Maine Turnpike in Kennebunk; and the Route 302 bridge over the Connecticut River between Woodsville, New Hampshire and Newbury, Vermont.
Krakoff remembered the make-it-or-break-it moment in that job, when he and Morrison did a fly over of the project site as they were preparing to put in a bid. The bridge is on a busy east-west interstate route, and keeping it open to traffic during construction was a critical component of the job.
“Here’s the Route 302 bridge and here’s a railroad bridge right next to it and we both said, ‘Why don’t we use the railroad bridge as a temporary bridge?’” recounted Krakoff. “It was risky, and we could have left a pile of money on the table if we hadn’t been able to convince the state of New Hampshire to let us use an old 1905 railroad bridge for highway traffic.”
The gamble paid off, and the project was recognized with a 2009 Build America Merit Award.
‘Coolest job ever’
There was reconstruction of the historic Cribstone Bridge connecting Bailey and Orr’s islands in Harpswell. CPM was the contractor on the job to reconstruct the one-of-a-kind bridge originally completed in 1928 and built from granite slabs from local quarries.
“That was the coolest job ever,” said Krakoff, who described the process as almost like taking a step backward in time. The goal was to recreate the original bridge, and that meant getting dispensation from the Federal Highway Administration to maintain the two-lane bridge’s original width of 18 feet, and bringing all the replacement stone in by barge from a staging area at the Taste of Maine Restaurant in Woolwich. CPM also hired a master craftsman from Scotland to teach its crews how to cut and shape stones to replace broken slabs from the old bridge. CPM’s work to recreate the historic bridge won kudos within the industry and the project received a 2011 Build Maine Award.
If there is one hallmark characteristic of the company, it is a profound sense of engagement that keeps them on task until the problem at hand is solved. That can be seen not only in CPM’s project list, but also in its commitment to the industry and the communities where it works.
Both Eldon Morrison and Millard Pray were well known for their contributions to industry. Pray, a long-time MBTA board member and president of the organization, was instrumental in the establishment of the MBTA Educational Foundation. The company also founded the CPM Constructors Scholarship at AGCMaine and the Dianne A. Morrison Foundation at UMaine for medical research. Morrison also is known for his outspoken advocacy on behalf of the construction industry and served as president of AGC Maine. In recognition of those efforts, AGC Maine gave Morrison its highest honor, the Major Achievement in Construction Award.
The new generation of leadership has continued that tradition. Stacey Morrison was the first woman chairman of the Associated Builders and Contractors of Maine. Koziell is currently serving as MBTA’s secretary-treasurer, and Ouellette is treasurer of AGC Maine. And the company has maintained an admirable record of safety, winning national and local awards for keeping its workforce alert and prepared to handle worksite hazards.
The company also prides itself on the solutions it finds that humanize the infrastructure it builds. Whether it is bike lanes and fishing platforms on a design-build bridge connecting Falmouth and Portland, investing in a boat school and fortifying a pier in Eastport, where CPM built the tidal generator or finding an innovative traffic solution for a small town on the New Hampshire-Vermont border, the satisfaction CPM staffers have received from a job well done has been made all the sweeter – and humbling – by industry recognition for their achievements.
“Here we are with these competing projects with massive budgets like the U.S. Embassy in Djibouti and we win with this little project in Eastport, Maine,” said Krakoff. “It was like going to the Academy Awards,” he added with a hint of incredulity in his voice. “This is the construction industry’s Academy Awards.”
“Don’t trip on the red carpet,” said Koziell.