Maine Trails, February - March '13
Inside Cover
Taking it to the streets
Shipping news
Highway Fund watch
More data, less work
News from the Belfast & Moosehead line
Tasking issues
Paper, ink and miles to go
William DelMonaco Sr.
Change is good
President’s Message
Taking it to the streets. MBTA launches a new effort to raise awareness.
By Doug Hermann, MBTA President.
 
Cover Story
Shipping news. Maine’s deepwater ports attract new shippers.
By Kathryn Buxton.
 
Maine News
Finding balance. The Highway Fund, the Maine State Police and the Maine Constitution.
 
More data, less work. MaineDOT’s new work plan.
 
Belfast & Moosehead Line: Group advances preservation plans.
By Robert E. Holland
 
Association News
Tasking issues. MBTA Funding Task Force launches public awareness effort to tackle bad roads, deficient bridges.
 
Member News
Paper, ink and miles to go. Transportation at core of printer’s acquisitions.
By Kathryn Buxton.
 
Appreciation: William DelMonaco, Sr.
 
MaineDOT View
Change is good. MaineDOT’s new and improved work plan. By David Bernhardt, P.E., MaineDOT Commissioner

 


Taking it to the streets

By Douglas R. Hermann, MBTA President
 
I hope our members and other Maine Trails readers will take an extra moment to read the story in the Association News section about the MBTA Funding Task Force. The task force is a group of industry leaders that has been working in recent months on a strategy to raise grassroots-level support for investment in Maine’s transportation infrastructure. 
 
The task force grew out of a discussion at an MBTA board meeting last spring. The central question, as MBTA Vice President Tom Gorrill put it, was this: Have we just been “preaching to the choir” while not effectively reaching our leaders in Augusta?
 
The upshot of that discussion? Something had to be done to spark action in Maine (and eventually in Washington). The board decided the time had come to get back to grassroots and build support for long-term, sustainable transportation investment. Maine voters overwhelmingly support transportation investments – just look back to the November 2012 election and the 72 percent “yes” vote for the transportation bond. Still, too often, our leaders don’t make transportation a higher priority.
 
At the heart of this effort is what MBTA members know very, very well. That transportation investment makes a positive difference on so many levels. On the street, potholes get fixed and bridges are rebuilt or rehabilitated. Kids get to school more safely, energy is saved and commerce moves more efficiently.
 
Take a broader view and we know that transportation investment creates jobs, both immediately and in the long-term. I know from talking to many of you that your businesses have found the past few years very challenging. The economic recovery at the state and regional level has literally crept along at a snail’s pace. Meanwhile, our infrastructure continues to crumble; 33 percent of the state’s local and state maintained roads are in poor or mediocre condition; 61 percent of major urban roads in Portland are ranked poor or mediocre; 40 percent of Bangor’s major roads are poor or mediocre. Putting Mainers to work fixing these roads and bridges would create jobs and improve daily life in our town and cities.
 
 If we pull back even further to look at the issue, we can see that well planned and thoughtful transportation investments have the power to connect us to the world. Do you need proof? Look no further than to recent investments in Maine’s port and rail infrastructure that are forming new connections with Europe and beyond (you can read about some of these developments in our cover story on Maine ports).
 
We are not alone here. All across the country, states are facing similar problems and have been looking for new ways to fund infrastructure. Virginia recently abandoned their fuel tax in favor of a broad-based sales tax. The reasoning was that whether you drive or not, you benefit from roads and bridges. Other states are considering charging users based on the number of miles they drive, a flat-fee option, or tying the gas tax to inflation.
 
What can we do here, in Maine, to get our leaders to take the steps needed for change? Unfortunately, our gas taxes no longer are able to get the job done. The fuel tax provides some 40 percent of state highway revenues and 92 percent of the federal Highway Trust Fund revenues, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. And those funds are not keeping up with what’s required for decent infrastructure. Worse, gas tax revenues will continue to decline as cars become more fuel-efficient and fewer people drive.
 
Currently in Maine we’re living with a $150 million per year funding gap. But what does $150 million mean? Most people find such a large amount abstract and hard to grasp. So MBTA legislative consultant John Melrose of the Eaton Peabody Consulting Group will be trying to translate that $150 million funding gap into meaningful information for the average Mainer – in effect, taking our message to the streets by developing maps and lists of projects that impact people and businesses in their own communities.
 
Meanwhile, I look forward to seeing and working with you in the weeks and months to come. Please watch for updates on MBTA’s work in Augusta and Washington and pitch in wherever and however you can. We certainly will need your help this spring – e-mailing and calling legislators, sponsoring meetings, supporting MBTA’s outreach efforts, spreading the word at work and staying informed and involved in the issues. Thanks!

 


Shipping news

Recent developments at Eastport and Portland punctuate a rocky period at Maine’s deep water ports. Is this wave of activity an indication that our ports are coming back from the recession? 

By Kathryn Buxton
 
In February, Icelandic shipping company Eimskip announced it would move its existing container service hub from Norfolk, Virginia to Portland in order to cut its shipping time to northern Europe. Eimskip estimates it will ship approximately 5,000 containers annually with biweekly service to the port that started in March.
 
The announcement is a positive sign for the Port of Portland, which has suffered its share of disappointment in the recent past. Since 2007, container service at the port has been a stop-and-go affair. In December 2007, Eimskip suspended operation of its feeder service connecting Portland and Halifax. Less than one year later, in July 2008, Columbia Coastal Transport ceased operations of a weekly container barge operation that connected Portland shippers to points south. For a short while, American Feeder Lines tried to establish service between Boston, Portland and Halifax, but the company, hampered by a lack of private investment and a stubbornly sluggish economy, shut down its container shipping operation in 2012.
 
Now, with the return of Eimskip, many are hoping that Portland’s port is poised for a boom. Maine Port Authority Director John Henshaw is optimistic about the new service, noting that it is different than other recent container operations at the port. The authority manages Portland’s International Marine Terminal where Eimskip will operate a warehouse and office.
 
“This is not a feeder service. The difference is Eimskip has its own freight and is using Portland as a logistical hub,” said Henshaw. That means, he said, that Eimskip won’t need to build a new market for its service. The Icelandic transport company is moving its eastern U.S. hub operations to Portland from Norfolk, Virginia, not only to take advantage of shorter sailing times to Europe but also for its connections to land-based transportation including freight rail. Eimskip will link with Pan Am Railways for rail service from the port.
 
Setting the stage
 
If Maine’s deep water ports rebound from the recession, it will be in large part due to the efforts of marine transportation advocates who were able to realistically assess Maine’s port assets and prudently invest a limited pool of public funding. In the middle of the economic downturn in 2009, Maine applied for a $34 million TIGER grant (Transportation Investments Generating Economic Recovery) from the U.S. Department of Transportation. The state’s proposal was one of hundreds of applications for a small pool of money – just $1.5 billion in competition with $57 billion worth of projects from all 50 states. Officials consider Maine lucky to have received a $14 million grant that was divvied up between Portland, Searsport and Eastport. Maine was one of only seven port grants during that first round of TIGER funding.
 
While the original plan had called for more intensive investments, the port authority worked with local officials in Portland to make the greatest impact possible with the limited funding available – $5 million of the TIGER funds set aside for improvements to the city’s port infrastructure.
 
“We looked at what we could do based on the money we did get, and we made an investment plan,” said Henshaw. The port authority looked at the port’s most glaring barriers – chief among them was a facility that originally had been designed to handle an international ferry and its passengers and which was not particularly well-suited to onloading and offloading freight.
 
“The container facility was only a sliver of land and the only access was two ramps,” said Henshaw. The decision was to reconfigure the old ferry terminal by reducing the footprint of the building and increasing the area of the pier that interfaces with the terminal by 12,000 square feet, providing direct access to the pier.
 
A second look
 
The timing of the renovations proved fortuitous, because the work was coming to completion as Eimskip began planning its move from Norfolk. Larus Isfeld, managing director for Eimskip USA, said that when the shipper originally began to shop around for a new hub, Portland was not high on the list. He said that company officials thought of Portland as cramped and inefficient. When officials invited Eimskip to take a second look, Isfeld was pleasantly surprised.
 
The old port “was one-third of what it is today,” recounted Isfeld. “What we saw changed that image. What they built in Portland suits us well.”
 
For Eimskip, that relatively modest $5 million investment made a big difference, as did a concerted charm offensive launched by the city of Portland, the Maine Port Authority and Pan Am Railways, which will provide connecting rail service for Eimskip. Still, the two other ports the company was considering had infrastructure to equal or surpass that found in Portland, including an impressive new crane at the port of Davisville in Rhode Island.
 
Ultimately, Isfeld said it was a combination of infrastructure and personal connections that helped seal the deal. He credits Pan Am’s David Fink for working behind the scenes to make the deal work for Eimskip, showing how cargo could seamlessly connect with rail service at the port. Fink even flew to Iceland to meet with Eimskip’s CEO, Gylfi Sigfusson.
 
“Everybody in the state of Maine, local government and business, made us feel like we were welcome, but without the infrastructure nothing else would make sense,” said Isfeld.
 
For its part, the city of Portland also has heralded the arrival of Eimskip as an example of government and business successfully working together. “A number of different entities had the vision a number of years ago to come together to form this public-private partnership to invest in the infrastructure here and to make sure we had the resources in this area,” Portland Mayor Michael Brennan said in the Bangor Daily News. “So what’s happening today is exactly what we wanted to have happen: to have a major business come to the city of Portland and, all of a sudden, open markets to local businesses, and businesses throughout the state and region, in ways we haven’t had in the past.”
 
Pellets and cattle
 
The port of Eastport also struggled in recent years as production at the nearby hardwood pulp plant in Baileyville fluctuated and the plant, then owned by Domtar, shut down for nearly two months during the height of the recession. As a result of that, Eastport Port Authority Executive Director, Chris Gardner, said the goal of recent infrastructure investments and marketing efforts at the port has been to diversify its market base.
 
 “It’s true, we were over leveraged in the pulp and paper industry, but it was and remains a partnership that has been the backbone of the port” said Gardner. “And during the shutdown we certainly hoped and prayed that production at the Baileyville mill would come back to the levels it was at before. But when the mill shut down, we looked around to see what we had. We have our location and proximity to markets in Europe. We have the deepest natural harbor in the continental United states, and we have one of the last places where the forest touches the ocean. And as such, we saw bulk commodities, especially in the fiber business, as an opportunity.”
 
So Eastport went looking for the funding for $8 million in infrastructure to make the port more competitive. Eastport received $2 million from Maine’s 2010 TIGER grant and an additional $4.5 million from a transportation bond passed by voters in 2009. It also received a $250,000 grant from the Northern Border Regional Commission and secured the remainder of the facility cost – approximately $2 million – through direct investment by the port authority and a bank loan. The port recently completed construction of a bulk handling facility, including a warehouse, conveyor and loading facility that can accommodate large volumes of wood chips and pellets, an increasingly popular fuel source being used in Europe.
 
That investment has begun to pay off. Last year, the port entered into an agreement with Timber Biofuel Venture to ship woodchips to Europe (Timber Biofuel has not yet begun shipments from the port but it is anticipated for 2013). In February, the port announced that Cate Street Capital plans to build an $80 million wood pellet manufacturing plant at the site of a former chemical plant at the port’s edge. The Port of Eastport has been purchasing the plant and surrounding acreage for $350,000 while former owner BASF has been completing the environmental clean up of the site. At the time the port entered into the purchase agreement with BASF, the hope was to attract a manufacturer to the coast that could take advantage of the port and nearby resources.
 
As in Portland, Eastport has worked hard to build its port business, not just relying on a “build it and they will come” approach. Gardner has been an outspoken advocate for the port since he came on as port director in 2007. The port also has benefited from support from the region’s state and U.S. legislators, and Gardner is quick to credit Senator Susan Collins, Senator Olympia Snowe and Representative Mike Michaud for their role in securing federal money for port investments. He also noted that former Maine Senate President Kevin Raye was critical in putting together the transportation bond package that went out to voters in 2009 and included funding for marine improvements.
 
Additionally, Eastport has served as a relay point in the shipment of U.S. bred dairy cattle to Turkey. Since 2010, more than 30,000 dairy cows have been shipped from Eastport, helping to generate a $250,000 port operating surplus for 2012.
 
Searsport support
 
The state has also made several targeted investments at Maine’s third deep water port of Searsport during the past several years to improve its marketability, using $7 million from Maine’s first TIGER grant. In February 2012, the Mack Point Marine Intermodal Cargo Terminal took delivery on a $4.2 million mobile harbor crane, Maine’s largest, and has invested nearly $3 million more into cargo handling equipment to expand port capacity and improve efficiency.
 
Henshaw of the Maine Port Authority noted that, with existing rail service by the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway and recent investments, the port has been able to maintain a steady stream of business throughout the recession due to its ability to handle heavy load cargo such as wind turbine components, transformers and papermaking equipment.
 
Additionally, area residents have begun to show support for a proposed liquid propane gas terminal that would add a 22.7-million-gallon, 137-foot propane tank to the port’s currently modest 50-foot skyline. Proposed by Denver-based DCP Midstream, the liquid propane gas terminal could add four to six propane tanker trips annually, according to Sprague Energy.
 
Still, the outcome for the propane terminal remains uncertain as opponents continue to fight it despite broad voter support. In early March 2012, Searsport voters rejected a proposed moratorium on the new development, with voters citing increased revenue from property taxes and the prospect of adding jobs in a county that has seen its unemployment rate double over the past decade. The port there, as in Eastport and Portland, is seen as a good economic development tool.
“We don’t have enough jobs. We’re in economic hard times. We need jobs so our children do not leave here,” Searsport resident Jeff Ryan said in the Bangor Daily News at the time of the vote.
 
Efforts to market ones of the port’s most promising assets, Sears Island, as a large-scale container port have been sidelined as officials have worked to fill capacity at the port’s Mack Point location. “We do see periodic interest in Sears Island from potential tenants,” said Henshaw, noting that to develop a port facility on the island would require a sizable private investment, and that just has not proven feasible in still tight economic times.
 
A bright spot for Searsport is a plan by a Cate Street/Thermogen biocoal plant in Millinocket to ship its product to the United Kingdom via Searsport beginning as early as 2014. Still some port advocates have voiced concerns the state and other stakeholders aren’t being as aggressive as they should be in pursuing potential tenants or private partners and instead choosing to “put all of their eggs in one basket,” waiting to see whether or not a propane handling facility will take root at the port. And they express admiration for how Pan Am Railways, the City of Portland – and officials at Eastport – have come together to aggressively pursue and secure business for their ports.
 
Return on investment
 
While the economy finally is showing signs of a sustained rebound, shipping in Maine – and worldwide – continues to be on a slow upward trajectory. For containerized traffic, like much of that passing through Maine’s three major ports, “it’s looking like another year of slow growth for imports and exports,” according to marine trade forecasters at the Journal of Commerce. That means funding for additional improvements will likely be limited in the near future.
 
Case in point is the Marine Highway tug-barge project the Maine Port Authority is developing with a $150,000 federal “marine highway” grant.
 
The goal is to develop a vessel that would provide container service connecting Boston and Portland with Halifax, Nova Scotia. The Portland-based project is part of a larger “marine highway” concept being developed by the U.S. DOT, and its goal is to eventually connect ports all along the east coast with a cost-effective alternative to overland shipments by truck. Henshaw said the Maine Port Authority has put the project to design the tug-barge hybrid vessel out to bid and expects proposals back within a month. While the scale of the project is modest compared to even the most recent round of port improvements at Portland, Eastport and Searsport, he believes it is just the kind of targeted investment that needs to be made right now and should help promote expansion of Portland’s container operations.
 
“We need to look at the markets and our resources and try to make investments that make sense,” said Henshaw. “There is plenty of opportunity out there.”

 


 

Highway Fund watch

Finding balance

Will this be the year constitutional balance is restored to the Maine Highway Fund by limiting contributions to the Department of Public Safety to 33 percent? Governor LePage raised the question in his proposed 2014-15 budget. The issue goes back nearly three-quarters of a century and is at the heart of a constitutional debate about diversion of public user fees.

 
The debate about Maine State Police funding and how much the Highway Fund should pay is not a new one. It is an issue that has been raised repeatedly over the years, as Maine has struggled to adequately fund maintenance of its highways and bridges. The percentage being paid by the Highway Fund since 1988 has fluctuated from 49 percent to 88 percent. Clearly, progress has been made in recent years in bringing the percentage down. This year, Governor Paul LePage included shifting the proportion paid from where it currently stands at 49 percent to 33 percent. The Governor included the cost shift in both the Highway Fund and General Fund budgets, in order to reflect the actual amount of time state troopers spend on traffic-related activities, as required by the Maine Constitution. The benefit to the Highway Fund is $15.1 million for the biennium. The evidence that the Highway Fund should pay no more than 33 percent is clear, although all parties agree that the state police should be fully funded.
 
“This issue has been somewhat of a sleeper, and we hope it will be soon put to rest,” said Maria Fuentes, executive director of the Maine Better Transportation Association (MBTA).
 
“The time really has come for this, and it has been great to see Governor LePage get behind it,” said MBTA President Doug Hermann. “We’ve had two different studies clearly showing the Highway Fund has been paying too much for state police. That’s money from Maine citizens’ gas taxes that we should be putting into keeping our roads and bridges safe.”
 
One of the studies Hermann was referring to was a 2007 report by the Legislature’s Office of Program Evaluation & Government Accountability (OPEGA) that found the Highway Fund consistently has made substantial overpayments to the Department of Public Safety and noted that only between 17 and 34 percent of state police activities were directly related to traffic enforcement.
 
The second was a 2011 analysis by the Department of Public Safety that supported OPEGA’s findings, noting that just 33 percent of state police activity was traffic-related. EDITOR’S NOTE: In February 2013, Maine State Police officials noted that, in 2012, troopers reporting on their activities indicated only 22 to 27 percent of their time was spent on traffic-related activities.
 
73-year battle
 
Despite those recent findings, the Highway Fund continues to pay a disproportionate amount for state police operations – currently 49 percent of the state police operations, or $22.4 million in FY 2012-13. “That represents more than $7.5 million annually in overpayments, money that we could be using to make essential repairs to our highways and bridges,” said MBTA’s Hermann. He said transportation advocates appreciate that the Maine Legislature has taken the matter up and asked for the time reports, the most recent of which indicate traffic-related state police activities range from 22 percent to 27 percent. “We agree with the governor, though, that 33 percent is a fair number at this time,” added Hermann.
 
Hermann’s comments get to the core of a battle that has been fought by the MBTA since its earliest days when the organization, founded 73 years ago as the Maine Good Roads Association, waged a multi-year campaign to have a constitutional amendment preventing the diversion of highway funds for non-highway purposes.
 
Mainers do not take changes to their constitution lightly. In the 179 years since voters defeated the first proposed amendment to Maine’s Constitution, there have been relatively few amendments to the document that serves as guiding principles for state government. One of the few times they have considered a change to the constitution was in 1944 when Maine voters went to the polls to determine how Maine’s highway funds were to be spent. The question was whether or not to protect Highway Fund monies from being diverted for non-road and bridge purposes, and Maine voters expressed themselves quite clearly on the matter – they voted by a margin of 8-to-2 that those funds should be protected.
 
“Maine voters were unequivocal,” said MBTA Executive Director Maria Fuentes. “They saw the gasoline tax as a user tax, and much like today, they paid those fees knowing their roads were desperately in need of that funding.”
 
Push-and-pull of politics
 
The question of how Maine’s Highway Fund was spent had been a subject of lively public debate since 1932, when the federal government first began collecting a 1¢ per gallon tax on gasoline. The federal gas tax had been proposed as one of a host of austerity measures by President Herbert Hoover during the Great Depression, and although those taxes were initially so unpopular with voters that Hoover lost his re-election bid, the revenues raised proved essential and brought real benefit to citizens in the form of a safer, more efficient road system.
 
The problem was this: the revenues the gas tax generated for states proved to be almost irresistible to state legislators who often viewed the Highway Fund as a sort of emergency fund, dipping into it to pay for any number of non-highway items.
 
That did not sit well with Maine voters, who in 1936 passed a citizens’ initiative restricting use of Highway Fund monies to roads and bridges by a margin of 3-to-1.
 
“This really was an issue that was central to how Maine citizens felt about taxation and user fees,” said President Doug Hermann. “The idea that the gasoline tax was levied on drivers to enable the government to pay to maintain the highways and bridges they used every day – that was a fundamental issue of trust for voters. The 1936 referendum very clearly stated that the Highway Fund should be reserved for the purpose it was intended – and in the end it was an extremely popular notion with Maine voters.”
 
The 1936 citizens’ initiative proved anything but binding. Almost before the ink was dry on newspaper accounts of the vote, the Maine Legislature moved to amend the new law to authorize diversions from the Highway Fund provided they were not “permanent.”
 
“Maine’s new statute proved inadequate almost immediately,” said Tim Woodcock of Eaton Peabody. Woodcock worked with the MBTA last year to research the history and legal precedents relating to Article IX, Section 19.
 
“Within a matter of months there was some compelling emergency and legislators used the Highway Fund to come to the rescue,” said Woodcock. “There usually was a half-hearted attempt to pay back the funds.”
 
One of those “emergencies” occurred when the state diverted $1.6 million to pay for old age pensions. Another $300,000 was pulled from roads to help fund State Police and more was diverted to cover the cost of a title law that was immediately repealed. Only a small portion of those funds appear to have been repaid into the Highway Fund, and by 1943, the fund was said to be short by $800,000.
 
Woodcock noted that some Maine leaders were not willing to let the issue rest with that legislative sleight of hand. One of those leaders was the Maine Good Roads Association (MGRA), a group of community and business leaders founded in 1939 that was an outspoken proponent of a constitutional amendment to protect the Highway Fund. MGRA was the predecessor organization to MBTA.
 
Passionate debate
 
Woodcock said that Maine was not alone in its fight to protect Highway Fund monies. Cash strapped states throughout the U.S. had been re-appropriating road funds, and the federal government was cracking down. “At that time, they were threatening states with withdrawing the funding if they used it for non-highway purposes,” said Woodcock. “There was this real concern that Maine would be seen as scofflaws and lose its transportation funding.”
 
The federal threat began to work, and by 1941, 11 states including New Hampshire already had passed constitutional amendments protecting road funds. In 1943, after four years of advocating, an amendment finally came to vote in the Maine Legislature. The debate was long, thoughtful and, at times, passionate. Those opposed to the amendment worried that it would tie the legislature’s hands in the case of an emergency. Those in favor argued that the legislature had little discipline in paying back those funds allocated for emergencies and that state roads had suffered for it. One of those arguing for the amendment was a rising political star from Gardiner, Representative Burton M. Cross. Cross later served as president of the Maine Senate and was elected governor in 1959.
 
He gave a fiery speech in the Maine House that is recorded in the legislature’s archives, chastising the legislature for its diversions:
 
When the thing was all over, the highway funds were short $800,000, and nobody could explain just why it was supposed to be paid back by the towns. However, the road funds have always been short to that extent. We did not have that money for the maintenance of roads, and the people knew it. I do not think any member who has ever been out in any group discussing roads since that time will be allowed to forget that $800,000. They saw it reflected in the maintenance of their roads, the dirt roads, the state roads, and the state aid roads. The money just wasn’t there for maintenance and the roads showed it. Consequently, I think that the public demand for this thing, even though you do not get letters from the individuals on this, is nevertheless there.
 
Cross made the point that by diverting money from the Highway Fund after passage of the citizens’ referendum, legislators had undermined the public trust.
 
[Maine voters] know they voted on it and they cannot understand why they should vote on it again. If it is necessary, I would be willing to gamble any money – and I am not much of a gambling man – that the vote would be at least eight to two in favor of this amendment if it is put to the people.
 
Cross’ words proved prophetic. A bill calling for a constitutional referendum finally passed in both houses, and the amendment went out to Maine voters on September 11, 1943. It passed with 139,805 voting in favor and just 33,172 voting against the constitutional amendment – an 8-to-2 margin.
 
‘Corrosive’ issue
 
Not even a constitutional amendment has been able to protect the Highway Fund, and today the debate about how much the Highway Fund should pay for state police operations remains an important constitutional test.
 
For Eaton Peabody’s Woodcock, the issue is a philosophical one that has resounding implications for the people’s trust in state government. “This is a conscious departure from the constitution, and that has a corrosive quality,” said Woodcock. “The problem is that over the long term, it undermines public confidence in user fees like the gas tax.”
 
For others, the constitutional imperative is made all the more compelling by a looming $150 million annual transportation funding deficit.
 
“Maine can’t afford to let this continue now any more than we could in 1944,” said the MBTA’s Hermann, who noted that the diversions re-present tens of millions of dollars over the past decade.
 
Said Hermann: “That is money we should be spending to make our roads and bridges safer, and we know that citizens expect our gas taxes to be spent the way they were intended.”
 
Timeline
 
The Constitutional Question
 
Advocates say, as highway and bridge funding grows scarce, it will be important to heed the constitutional imperative if Maine is to have a safe, efficient transportation system.
 
1944 Maine citizens pass Article IX, Section 19 of the Maine Constitution, protecting state Highway Fund revenues from being diverted to non-transportation uses.
 
2007 The Legislature’s Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability (OPEGA) issues findings that the Maine Highway Fund was paying for approximately 65 percent of Department of Public Safety operations while only 17-34 percent of department activities were transportation-related.
 
2007 State law is enacted (5 MRSA Section 1666) charging the governor with the task of reviewing data “quantifying the activities of the Department of Public Safety, Bureau of State Police that may be eligible for funding from the Highway Fund pursuant to the Constitution of Maine, Article IX, Section 19.”
 
2008 Review by the Maine Department of Public Safety found that just 33 percent of current State Police activities are traffic-related.
 
2013 Governor LePage releases proposed FY 2014-15 budget, reducing Department of Public Safety allocations from Highway Fund from 49 percent to 33 percent.
 
2013 In a budget hearing, State Police testify that 22-27 percent of state police time was spent on traffic-related activities in 2012.

 


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.”
 
New system
 
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.
 
Notable projects
 
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.

 


News from the Belfast & Moosehead line

By Robert E. Holland
 
Since 2008, the Brooks Preservation Society (BPS), has operated the Belfast & Moosehead Lake Railroad owned by the state of Maine. Investing in the railroad has infused dollars into the Waldo County economy.
 
Most notable were the many tour buses that the railroad handled near the end of the 2012 season. The buses brought overnight visitors to the state, tourists who stayed over one or two nights in Belfast to enjoy a train ride on a scenic and historic rail line. The tour bus operators indicated the tours that included a train ride were among their most popular offering. Increased tour bus business is forecasted for 2013.
 
Ridership on the train to the Common Ground Fair from Thorndike and Unity has surged over the past couple of years. The train has reduced congestion on Route 139 leading in to the fair grounds. The train stops in the fair to discharge passengers.  
 
The 2013 season started out on a positive note. BPS received the H. Albert Webb Memorial grant to repair the foundation of the historic Brooks, Maine, passenger station. Mr. Webb had a keen interest in the railroads of New England. In his honor, his son established a foundation that funds worthy projects with the intent to preserve New England railroad heritage. The grant money will allow BPS to start work this spring.
  
This year, seasonal train operations will begin Memorial Day weekend, with trains departing at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. from the City Point Railroad Museum in Belfast on Saturday, Sunday and holiday Mondays.
 
FMI: Any organization or individual that would like to contribute to the repair and renovation of the station – be it material or money – is encouraged to contact BPS at 722-3899 or jfeero@brookspreservation.org. For information about the line, visit www.brookspreservation.org.

 


Tasking issues

MBTA Funding Task Force seeks to capture public, legislative support

By Kathryn Buxton
 
How do you build a grassroots effort? One that will take transportation funding from the backburner to prominence in Augusta? That has been the chief item on the agenda of the MBTA Funding Task Force, a group formed by the MBTA Board of Directors during the summer of 2012.
 
“It all came from a discussion that started at the June board meeting in Eastport,” recalled MBTA Executive Director Maria Fuentes. “Members of the board were talking about the upcoming bond referendum and its prospects for passage by Maine voters. Board member and MBTA Vice President Tom Gorrill asked the big question: ‘Are we just preaching to the choir here?’”
 
That started board members thinking that perhaps it was time to take the debate about transportation funding back to its grassroots and build local support from the ground up for increasing state funding for essential infrastructure – roads, bridges, transit, ports and rail.
 
“There is a growing frustration about partisanship and how it is stifling progress on key issues, not just here in Maine, but across the country,” said Gorrill. “We need people and support behind us if we’re going to solve this stalemate that is really hurting our state.”
 
‘Turning point’
 
Fast-forward to spring 2013, and the MBTA Task Force on Funding has set in motion a strategy for taking the issue of Maine’s transportation funding crisis to Maine’s main streets.
 
According to MBTA President Doug Hermann, the Funding Task Force started with a basic truth: Maine voters overwhelmingly support transportation investments. “That much was obvious to us with the results of the 2012 bond referendum. The transportation bond received more public support than any other candidate or issue on the ballot,” said Hermann. On November 6, despite a constant stream of anti-borrowing rhetoric that has dominated the local and national news over the past two years, Question 4, the $51.5 million transportation bond, passed handily with 73 percent of the vote.
 
“The bond passing by the largest margin of any transportation bond in the past decade was a turning point in the work of the task force,” said Hermann. “That showed us the message about investment creating jobs and improving safety and the quality of life for Mainers really hits home.”
 
The “yes” vote planted an idea among task force members, said Hermann. “The question became, ‘What if we could muster that level of support in a more concerted, longer-term effort to solve the funding impasse?’”
 
Creating momentum
 
Driving Mainers to vote for a much-needed transportation bond during a hotly contested presidential election is one thing. Fuentes said the task force is well aware that a wholly different kind of effort will be needed to stir up a sustained, grassroots effort to find a long-term funding solution for Maine’s beleaguered transportation network.
 
“The task force members feel that, while we have been chipping away at the edges of this issue for a long time and have the support of many key organizations, such as the Maine State Chamber, we need a more fundamental shift,” said Hermann.
 
Gorrill, the instigator of the task force, agrees. “This problem is bigger than just us. We need to have people working on this on the local level and demanding results from their elected officials, if we’re ever going to see movement.” The group also has said it plans to partner with other organizations that care about transportation infrastructure, such as the Maine Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers, ACEC Maine and AGC Maine.
 
To help come up with a plan, the task force invited MBTA legislative consultant John Melrose of the Eaton Peabody Consulting Group to develop a proposal for research. The goal is to identify specific transportation projects that will resonate among citizens and serve as a catalyst for a grassroots effort to build a 21st century transportation system that will help improve mobility and safety and, ultimately, spur economic development. MBTA will analyze what the $150 million per year annual funding gap means for communities throughout the state. The research will look at infrastructure projects in different areas that will require additional funding in order to be completed.
 
“Just saying that there is a $150 million funding gap is abstract and hard to grasp,” said Gorrill. “We need to make the gap real for people so they can see exactly what is not getting done in their communities and how it affects their every day lives – from dangerous intersections and deficient bridges to posted roads and potholes.”
 
Both Gorrill and Fuentes admit that creating momentum for a long-term effort will be a challenge. They said the task force nevertheless believes that it is efforts like this that are at the heart of MBTA’s mission.
 
“This is what the MBTA stands for, and to do it well, we will need to be the catalyst,” said Hermann. “An effort like this takes research, and it takes a small army committed to the cause and willing to meet with local decision makers.
 
That could take a significant investment on the part of our organization and others who are committed to seeing this through.”
 
FMI: Watch for updates on the MBTA Funding Task Force’s work in the Hot Topic section on the MBTA web site, www.MBTAonline.org.

 


Paper, ink and miles to go

For Maine’s largest sheet-fed printer, transportation drives its latest business acquisitions

By Kathryn Buxton
 
Place a pin on a map showing J.S. McCarthy’s Augusta headquarters on Darin Drive in Augusta and draw ever-larger concentric circles around it, and you will see the logic in the company’s decade-plus of growth. To Rick Tardiff, president of one of Maine’s largest volume printers, that logic is grounded in the availability of good, efficient transportation to markets throughout New England.
 
“Transportation is absolutely the first thing we consider when we expand,” said Tardiff. “We have to know that if we ship a job tonight, it will be in New York City tomorrow morning. It’s very basic.”
 
J.S. McCarthy’s formula for success is actually much more complicated. It begins with a quality product – high end sheet fed printing produced at the company’s 110,000-square-foot facility in Augusta – a highly trained core staff and a commitment to investing in the latest technology. It also includes an acquisition spree that has seen the company acquire printers in Maine, Massachusetts and Connecticut.
 
That has given the company a solid footing in key eastern markets, including Boston, Hartford and New York and won the company high-end clients in the cosmetics and fashion industries. It also has earned it the respect of its peers, and in January the printer was honored as the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce Business of the Year.
 
‘Stronger with time’
 
J.S. McCarthy was founded in 1947 by husband and wife Joseph and Lucienne McCarthy. The printing industry couldn’t have been more different than it is today. Poised for the post-World War II boom, printing was ranked fourth among all U.S. industries. Charlie McCarthy ran the business with his brothers Joe and Don for decades, steadily building a reputation for quality, service and value.
 
Fast-forward to the 2000s, a time when the printing industry began to confront challenges of changing market forces. Businesses are printing less and printers are competing for advertising dollars with online advertising and marketing. J.S. McCarthy is one of several companies acquired by Letter Systems of Hallowell. Letter Systems also acquired Knowlton & McCleary in Farmington; Graphic Color, based in Fairfield, and Spectrum Printing, in Portland, soon followed.
 
Under the Tardiffs, the expanded printer remains very much a family operation. Rick Tardiff shares business decisions with his partner Patty Tardiff, whom Rick calls “my wife and company mom.” Three of the couple’s four children work for the business, as well: Jonathan is plant manager; Michael heads up marketing; and Matthew is controller. Daughter Amy has held several positions at the company in the past. She currently practices law in Pittsburgh and sits on the board of directors of J.S. McCarthy.
 
Tardiff said that the move to expand came from a decision he and Patty made early in their married life: “We wanted to make sure that if our kids wanted to stay and work in Maine, there was opportunity for them,” said Tardiff.
 
 Under the Tardiffs’ reign, the company consolidated operations under the McCarthy name because it has a higher market profile and better brand recognition than Letter Systems. The company moved its operations to McCarthy’s Darin Drive plant, largely because there was plenty of room for the business to grow.
 
And grow it did. The company expanded its operations outside of Maine in 2010, buying Sawyer Printers in Boston and Wolf Colorprint in Connecticut. The Tardiffs’ strategy was to close the production portion of those operations, but retain the sales and customer service staffs there. McCarthy brought home all of the print production to Maine, but first the company needed to expand its production facility and switch to a 24/7 production schedule.
 
 In 2011, the company was able to fast-track a 22,000-square-foot expansion of the Augusta plant to make room for a new printing press and expanded finishing operations. This was the second major expansion for the company in less than a decade; the first was in 2007.
 
The company has achieved all this, at a time when other printers are struggling, faced with a shift of advertising dollars to the internet and a stagnant economy. The industry has been hit hard, contracting by 30 percent over the past decade. Still, J.S. McCarthy has grown by branching out to new markets and investing in new technology to squeeze out every efficiency it can. Print Impressions, a trade publication that has chronicled McCarthy’s rise, hailed the company’s strategy of acquisition and modernization, calling the company “a conglomeration of merged entities honed into a taut, well-oiled machine that is only getting stronger with time.”
 
Ink in his veins
 
Tardiff grew up in with ink in his veins. He worked for a small printer during high school, learning the basics of the business on an old A.B. Dick printing press after school. He learned about printing in earnest from 1974 to 1976, earning a two-year associates degree in graphic communications from Central Maine Technical College in Auburn (now known as Central Maine Community College). He went to work for Letter Systems in 1976. Editor’s note: It was during the 1980s that Tardiff began a long association with Maine Better Transportation Association, becoming a member of the organization and printing the association’s magazine, Maine Trails.
 
While at Letter Systems, Tardiff helped build the company into a $4 million business. He and his wife Patty bought out 50 percent of the business in 1978 and the other 50 percent in 1980. By the late 1990s, the Tardiffs began to look for expansion opportunities.
 
For his part, Tardiff is visibly proud of his achievement at the helm. The company did $31 million in sales last year and currently employs 175 permanent employees (145 at the Augusta location, including eight new hires during the past year). He said that currently approximately 65 percent of the company’s work comes from clients outside of Maine.
 
In all, Tardiff estimates, McCarthy has invested $14 million since 2000 to modernize and streamline its operations.
 
Lean manufacturing
 
On a recent tour of the print production facility, Tardiff strides purposely past the three giant, multi-million dollar Komori sheet-fed eight-color presses that perform the lion’s share of the company’s printing. The company also operates a digital press for lower volume, fast-turnaround jobs.
 
In the football-field-sized room where projects are folded, bound, trimmed, finished and boxed for shipping or prepared for mailing, he stops to point out the floor plan. The space has been laid out like a small city with stacks of printed material looking like miniature high rise buildings and signs at every corner indicating the destination of each job currently in progress.
 
He speaks of the company’s latest major acquisition, a new folding machine purchased from Europe that will be the first of its kind in North America. Due to arrive in May, the new machine performs functions in just 10 minutes that used to take an hour-and-a-half.
 
And as he leads the way through the on-site warehouse, he stops to extol the virtues of just-in-time manufacturing that has enabled McCarthy to save thousands of dollars every year in inventory costs on the materials – ink, paper and printing plates –essential to his business.
 
“We practice lean manufacturing,” said Tardiff. “We don’t keep anything that we don’t need,” he said, noting that sometimes, it doesn’t even take a phone call. He described how one supplier – the company that provides printing plates – monitors their stock remotely, and every time it falls below a predetermined level, it sends a truck to replenish McCarthy’s shelves.The company also hires temporary labor for jobs that ebb and flow with the volume of printing at the plant. There’s not much of what could be called idle time for people and machines, and nothing goes to waste, not even warehouse space.
 
Green means
 
On the subject of waste, Tardiff is eager to discuss the company’s extensive recycling program that reclaims nearly 160 tons of paper and cardboard every month. The printer supports clean, renewable energy by purchasing wind power credits for 100 percent of the company’s energy consumption. The firm also follows other green manufacturing practices – from using energy efficient lighting and purchasing paper coatings in bulk, to reducing waste and following “green” practices established by the Forest Stewardship Council, including the use of recycled papers and elimination of hazardous chemicals in the printing process. For Tardiff and his executive staff, the green revolution at J.S. McCarthy is as much a business necessity as it is an altruistic commitment to the community and the future. “It’s just good business,” said Tardiff, who noted that the businesses his company prints for require their suppliers to adhere to strict environmentally friendly manufacturing practices because they, in turn, are meeting consumer market demand for green products.
 
“When you sit down to meet with a Fortune 500 company, you have to be prepared for the question, ‘What is your environmental policy?’” said Tardiff.
 
For all of the company’s recent successes, Tardiff believes there is still more the company can do to solidify its future. While company revenues have grown from $22 million to $31 million within the past three years, he estimates the company has capacity to grow by another 22 percent to $40 million with its current plant configuration.
 
He said he believes that growth will come from out-of-state clients, but the problem will be convincing them they can get a superior product for a competitive price from a company in Maine. That brings it all down to quality, efficiency – and transportation.
 
“Distance is our biggest barrier, so we need to give clients a reason to go with us,” said Tardiff. “We’ve got the quality and the craftsmanship. We are on the leading edge of the technology. We give them good service and a good price. That’s why transportation is so important.”

 


Appreciation

William DelMonaco Sr.,1926-2013

William Peter DelMonaco Sr. was a “hands-on kind of guy,” a working style that served him well in his chosen career of construction. He took up that career up when he moved north from Rhode Island to Calais, Maine with his brothers Edmund and Nicholas to take jobs in their uncle Tommy DiCenzo’s construction company, Thomas Dicenzo Inc., a third generation general contractor and crane service founded in the early 1930s. The family firm has offices in Calais and Hermon. 
 
DelMonaco was born March 7, 1926, in Providence, Rhode Island, the son of Pietro and Maria Maddalena (DiCenzo) DelMonaco. He attended Nathaniel Greene Jr. High School and graduated from Mount Pleasant High School in Providence, Rhode Island. On May 27, 1947, he married the love of his life, Phoebe Saunders.
 
DelMonaco worked in construction for 71 years before retiring, all for his uncle Tommy’s construction firm, which eventually he and his brothers took charge of. Each of the brothers focused on a different aspect of the company’s operations. Edmund ran the office. Nicholas oversaw the shop and kept the equipment running. William spent the majority of his time on the road, serving as superintendent on many of the company’s jobs. That was right where he liked to be – outside building things and solving the problems that constantly come up on a job site, whether it was fixing a piece of equipment that had broken down or working with crews and engineers to make a road project come to life.
 
“My father loved being out on the job,” remembered DelMonaco’s son and successor Bill DelMonaco.
 
During that time, he helped construct some of Maine’s landmark infrastructure. One of the very first jobs he worked on for his uncle was the Quoddy Dam project, a U.S. Works Project Administration job and early tidal energy generation project designed by hydroelectric engineer Dexter Cooper. He also helped construct of the dry docks at the West Yard of the New England Shipbuilding Corporation in South Portland during the years leading up to World War II. That was where more than 30,000 Mainers were employed and where 236 Liberty cargo ships – the ocean going workhorses of the war – were built. He also worked on construction of airstrips at Houlton and Dublois.
 
The war years
 
William was very patriotic, and he joined the war effort, as well, taking a break from construction to serve in the Tank Corps under General George Patton from 1944 until the end of World War II in 1945. He was tapped for the Tank Corps, because he was good with machinery, and DelMonaco traveled from Fort Dix, New Jersey, to Le Havre, France and then on to Germany where his unit met up with General Patton’s Third Army on the Rhine River.
 
He often talked with family and friends about his experiences in the service and the support of the German people showed for the American soldiers stationed there during the war. DelMonaco was proud to have served his country and for helping to free the German people from the horrors of Hitler’s oppression.
 
On the ‘Airline’
 
After the war, DelMonaco went back to work with his brothers at the family firm. He worked on utility and road projects throughout the state, including construction of Maine’s network of interstate highways. He also headed up job site operations on the construction of many sections of Route 9 – Maine’s famous “Airline” highway connecting Bangor to Calais and a major trucking route for the timber and paper industries.
 
“Dad must have built two-thirds of that road. He loved state jobs and being out with the state engineers solving problems on the job,” recounted his son Bill.
 
Throughout his career, William followed a philosophy of efficiency and hard work shaped by his early years growing up during the Depression.
 
“He instilled in us that you had to go out and do good work and do it once, because you can’t afford to go back and do it again,” remembered Bill. “He believed in doing everything as best as you can and as quickly as you can.”
 
He also warned his children and grandchildren to save and be ready for tough times. “He often said that ‘Bad days are coming,’ so we better be ready for them,’” said Bill.
 
Tireless worker
 
William enjoyed being with family and friends, and he particularly loved family vacations in Florida, where he could swim and soak up the sun. He was an avid sports fan and enjoyed following the Boston Celtics and the Red Sox.
 
He was always ready to help anyone with a project and would gladly volunteer his time when a friend or a family member asked. DelMonaco was a communicant of Immaculate Conception Church. He was a member of the Knights of Columbus, American Legion, the Maine Better Transportation Association and AGC Maine. Along with his brothers, he was a very loyal member of MBTA, and frequently attended regional meetings, particularly those in Washington County. He remained close with his brothers, seeing them daily and often invited friends, family and business associates to join the fun.
 
“Almost every day he and his brothers would go to the Irving Big Stop at the end of Route 9 in Baileyville and the Wickachee in Calais. They would also go every Friday to Bangor for lunch at Miller’s to meet the lawyer, Gerald Rudman, Miller’s owner, Sonny Miller, their old investigator Bucky Buchanan and whoever might be able to break free,” recalled William’s grandson Tony DelMonaco. “Those guys never had a dull moment, and it usually revolved around food!” he added.
 
One of his favorite pastimes was working to restore three early 20th century Mack fire engines he and his brothers purchased and transported from Baltimore.
 
He was very involved with the St. Croix No. 1 Firehouse Restoration Committee and well known to the group as a tireless worker, helping to recruit local support and raise funds for a museum at the 1874 Calais firehouse. The building is on the National Register of Historic Places.
 
His wife, his parents, his sister, Anna Drew and several brothers- and sisters-in-law predeceased him. William is survived by his sons, William and his wife, Jane; Chris and his girlfriend, Brenda; grandsons Anthony and his girlfriend, Dr. Jennifer Robichaud; Joshua and his wife, Caroline; Benjamin and his girlfriend, Ashley Billips; brothers Nicholas Sr. and his wife, Geraldine; Edmund Sr. and his wife, Margaret; Peter and his wife, Irene; godson Dr. John DelMonaco; goddaughter Donna Geel; brother-in-law, Gary Saunders; and many nieces and nephews.
 
Donations in William’s name may be made to the St. Croix No. 1 Firehouse Restoration, P.O. Box 605, Calais or the Calais Free Library, 9 Union Street, Calais.

 


Change is good

MaineDOT’s new and improved work plan

David Bernhardt, P.E., MaineDOT Commissioner
 
For anyone familiar with the thick document MaineDOT produces every two years containing a list of capital projects we plan to build throughout the state, you know that the MaineDOT work plan has been through a number of iterations over the last decade.
 
The document has been previously known as the Biennial Transportation Improvement Program (BTIP), the Biennial Capital Work Plan (BCWP), and the Capital Work Plan. The work plan has been the principal document by which the department has communicated its two-year capital improvement program. Traditionally, the work plan is shared with the Maine Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Transportation and with the full legislature in the spring of calendar odd-years, though the legislature does not vote on the work plan. MaineDOT also sends notice of its availability to municipalities and other transportation stakeholders.
 
In many respects, the work plan has remained the same over the years in that it was a program of capital projects we expected to build over the course of two state fiscal years running from July of one year to June of the next year. So, why change? Why rock the boat? In short, we want to increase transparency, make it more customer-oriented, and ensure it is in sync with our new strategic plan. As such, we have made some significant changes to this new work plan.
 
The new plan will be different in three big ways. First, it will be based on the calendar year, and, as such, will be published in January. It also will contain three years of projects, as opposed to two years as it has in prior work plans.
 
In the past, the work plan has been based on the state fiscal year that begins in July. The change to a calendar year just makes good logistical sense, if you think about it. It better aligns the work plan with our construction season, that for all intents and purposes, begins when the frost is out of the ground. It should also make the work plan more user-friendly for our customers and eliminate confusion between state fiscal years (July - June) and federal fiscal years (October – September).
 
With the new work plan containing three years’ worth of projects, we also provide our customers with more certainty. The first year of projects will contain specific details showing actual construction projects and the delivery schedule. The second and third year projects will likely be projects for which funding recently has been allocated and will have fewer details associated with them. Those details will get filled in as soon as funding becomes available. Basically, this means that first year projects are locked in and will get done that year, while second and third year projects will get done – but the timing is not as certain as it is contingent on funding availability.
 
The new three-year work plan will then be updated annually, increasing our ability to make changes based on policy fluctuations at the federal level (e.g., the new federal authorization called Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century or “MAP-21”), changes in infrastructure condition and changes in funding. This should give our customers more confidence in terms of project outcomes and schedule because they will know what to expect. 
 
The second difference is that work plan project selection will be based on highway corridor priorities (HCP’s) and customer service levels (CSL’s). As stated in a prior MaineDOT column in Maine Trails, MaineDOT will be prioritizing projects like never before, due in large part to significant fiscal constraints. In order to make the best practical use of all transportation resources, MaineDOT will use HCP’s to target scarce resources to the most critical infrastructure needs. For instance, the Maine’s interstate network that carries tens of thousands of vehicles daily is considered to be more crucial for Maine’s overall economy than a roadway that carries a few hundred cars per day. While each road is important to someone, most can agree that there is a need to use objective and understandable criteria to determine roadway priorities throughout Maine.
 
MaineDOT gathered and analyzed straightforward, common-sense factors to classify all 23,400 miles of Maine’s public highways by priority levels 1 through 6. MaineDOT also established easy-to-understand customer service levels (CSLs) on an intuitive A-F scale by using data on each highway’s safety, condition and service. In 2011, the Maine Legislature codified this concept by establishing specific priorities, service levels, capital goals and reporting requirements.
 
Third, unlike prior work plans that focused solely on capital projects, the new work plan will present a comprehensive assessment of all planned expenditures. This will include maintenance (plowing, ditching, etc.) and support functions as well. Our goal is to increase transparency of expenditures in all areas of MaineDOT’s operation. While the essence of the new work plan will continue to be project lists, it will also include a narrative describing funding, organization structure and work projections (miles paved, miles ditched, bridges replaced, etc.). It also will include location-specific project listings, work descriptions, and anticipated budgets. Lastly, it will include a section depicting typical annual expenditures in a much more transparent fashion than prior capital work plans. That is, the work plan will provide detail in non-project activities, such as legal services, metropolitan transportation planning and well mitigation.
 
We have worked hard to produce a work plan that better aligns with the construction season and provides a more definite schedule for project delivery; prioritizes spending in a way that makes sense in a period of financial uncertainty; and offers transparency, adaptability and responsiveness.

 

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