More data, less work
MaineDOT unveils new work plan in a new format
The Maine Department of Transportation unveiled its much heralded MaineDOT Work Plan: Calendar Years 2013-2014-2015 on February 12. While the plan features several innovative new features – a three-year snapshot of capital construction and maintenance work planned for the next three years and new data analysis tools – the plan offers a stark look at a department faced with a declining budget beginning in 2014.
“The big news is less about the work in this plan, than about how MaineDOT continues to be squeezed by a budget that falls short by $150 million a year,” said MBTA President Doug Hermann. “We are never going to be able to keep up with our critical transportation needs, if we don’t step up and identify additional funding.”
In all, the new work plan calls for $1.1 billion in capital investments in highways, bridges and multimodal transportation over the next three years, with peak spending in the three-year plan occurring during the current calendar year, when the department is slated to invest $188.9 million on highway capital investments, $11.9 million on safety and spot improvements and $97.7 million on bridges.
While 2013 highway and bridge capital investments will be higher than in 2011 and 2012, investments are down considerably from 2010 when Maine enjoyed an influx of spending from federal recovery funds. Spending in all categories falls even more precipitously in 2013 and 2014.
“According to MaineDOT projections, we will be spending during the last two years of this plan even less on our roads and bridges than we did in 2008 unless there is an influx of new money,” said MBTA Executive Director Maria Fuentes. She added: “That is going to have repercussions for our economy in terms of lost jobs, reduced mobility and increased safety risks.”
While funding levels projected for the plan are worrisome, the 174-page document does represent several innovations in how MaineDOT classifies projects. The plan maps out capital transportation investments for three full years, rather than two and follows a calendar-year format, rather than listing projects according to Maine’s fiscal year, the format followed by previous biennial work plans.
“The change to a calendar year better aligns the work plan with the construction season, which begins in the spring and continues into October,” MaineDOT Commissioner David Bernhardt noted in comments accompanying the plan.
The work plan also allocates project funding according to the department’s new system of prioritization instituted by the department during the past two years. Under that system, project funding is determined according to a data-driven grid that weighs several factors, including traffic and customer service levels within each highway corridor to make sure there is, what MaineDOT terms, “the highest customer return-on-investment” in times of limited funding.
Drilling down into the plan, there are several long-planned projects that will finally be addressed either entirely or partially. During 2013, MaineDOT plans to spend $11.7 million for modifications at Exit 113 on I-95, the location of the new Maine General Health complex.
In 2014 and 2015, the department has several reconstruction projects on the board, as well: a $14 million project to reconstruct 4.8 miles of Route 3 in Bar Harbor; $5.85 million to rebuild a 2.21 mile section of Route 1 in Thomaston; and $4 million to rebuild two sections of Route 1 in Washington County. Also on the plan for 2014 and 2015 is $12.5 million to begin work on a bypass project in Presque Isle that has been under discussion and in planning for more than two decades.
The biggest dollar ticket item in the three-year plan is $36 million for the Sarah Long Bridge in Kittery. Maine is sharing the cost of the border bridge replacement with New Hampshire. Total cost has been estimated to be at least $172 million and no federal grant money has yet been identified to fill the gap. In 2014-2015, MaineDOT also has set aside $250,000 for preliminary engineering for replacement of the FDR Memorial Bridge, originally built in 1962. In 2011, concerns were raised because the bridge, which spans Lubec Narrows and leads to the former president’s summer home at Campobello Island, had shifted.
“Bridge spending is another area of concern in this work plan,” said Fuentes of the MBTA. She noted that according to MaineDOT data accompanying the plan, bridge spending in 2014 and 2015 will be only half of what it was in 2010.
“After the I-35W collapse and the lives lost in 2007, the Maine Legislature set goals and found extra bridge funding to the tune of $160 million over four years. We also were able to dedicate recovery funds and make some real progress,” said Fuentes. “That money is now long gone, and if we don’t make it a priority, we risk once again falling behind in making our bridges safe.”
FMI: Download a complete copy of the 2013-2014-2015 MaineDOT Work Plan at www.mainedot.gov.