Endings and beginnings. Legislature ends without a bond. By Tom Gorrill
The bridge issue. Without a bond, 58 bridge projects – and Maine jobs – are at risk. By Kathryn Buxton
Budget passed, but no bond. The Maine Legislature adjourns without taking up a bond. By John Melrose
Senator King talks about transportation and other issues.
Trail talks. Transportation Committee members Ron Collins and Wayne Parry talk with MBTA’s Maria Fuentes.
Adapting to the times. Looking ahead at the MBTA Annual Meeting.
Readiness is all. Washington County Community College President William Cassidy addresses MBTA members in Eastport.
Guiding principles. Penobscot Bay Pilots live by a Maine’s maritime tradition. By Kathryn Buxton
Budget breakdown. A look at the recently passed MaineDOT budget. By Bruce Van Note, MaineDOT Deputy Commissioner
Endings and beginnings
As the legislative session ends without a bond for voters, MBTA sets stage for new public awareness initiative
By Thomas Gorrill, MBTA President
A Roman philosopher once wrote: “From the end spring new beginnings.” That thought has been in my mind with the close of the 126th Maine Legislature.
For those of us who care deeply about improving Maine’s transportation infrastructure, the 126th Maine Legislature began very well. Several transportation bond proposals were introduced, and there was a promising proposal to rejigger a portion of Maine’s fuel tax to create a sales tax. That bore similarities to innovative transportation funding legislation passed this year in Virginia and Maryland which promises to bring in new revenue for those states’ roads and bridges. We thank Governor LePage, Transportation Committee Chairs Edward Mazurek and Ken Theriault and Representative Ann Peoples for their vision and hard work on these bills. Unfortunately, the bonds are still on hold and the fuel tax proposal was struck down before it could be debated on the floor of the legislature.
A new Maine State Police funding arrangement, written into the Highway Fund budget and championed by Governor LePage, was a definite bright spot. The MBTA has worked hard to bring that issue to the forefront, and it was gratifying to see that hard work yielded results when the budget passed. With State Police funding now equitably distributed between the Highway Fund (35 percent) and the General Fund (65 percent), there will be an estimated $6.5 million more in the state’s highway and bridge budget.
The most disappointing development of the session? The legislature adjourned without sending a transportation bond to voters in November.
This was particularly worrisome because MaineDOT had incorporated $100 million in bond funding into its budget. Now, without a bond, the department may have to cut projects from an already barebones work plan. More than a hundred capital road and bridge projects are at risk (MaineDOT’s list of at risk projects is on line at www.MBTAonline.org
With that less-than-ideal ending to the legislative session in mind, I want to look ahead to all the good work that is just beginning for the MBTA.
I am privileged to serve this organization that has a long history of advocating for safer, more efficient transportation throughout our state. At the MBTA annual meeting I said I had two initiatives I would like to see through this year.
The first is to work with my fellow MBTA board members to update our strategic plan. The last time we updated it was in 2007 under the leadership of past president Tim Folster. The world has changed a great deal since then. So has the way most of us run our organizations. The MBTA has changed, as well.
We will be calling on members to help in the planning process. If you would like to be a part of this effort, please let me or Maria Fuentes, our executive director, know. MBTA does not serve a specific industry. We advocate for transportation infrastructure funding. We look to our members, to other organizations and partners to support us with this mission.
The second goal I have set for myself and MBTA is to continue the work my predecessor Doug Hermann launched – the Fix It NOW! campaign.
In the coming months, we will be working with MBTA senior policy advisor John Melrose to develop an estimate of the long-term funding needed to keep our transportation system competitive, and to come up with recommendations for sustainable transportation funding.
Beyond that, we will be developing a plan on how to better communicate that need to the traveling public. The ultimate goal of Fix It NOW! is to establish a coalition of community leaders and organizations who can make the case for developing sources of sustainable transportation funding – businesses, community and other groups that depend on a safe transportation network – know its worth and will fight to make Maine’s roads and bridges better. We also will develop the research and tools those partners will need to take the message of efficiency, safety, economic development and sustainability to the streets.
Today I can report the Fix It NOW! campaign is off to a good start. So far, we’ve had strong response from our members and we have raised more than $36,000 towards our short-term goal of $75,000.
This is a good time to begin a major initiative. The need is there, and so is the drive to make this happen. Thank you all for your generous support for MBTA and the work we do. We couldn’t get it done without you.
The bridge issue
The Maine Legislature wrapped up the session without sending a bond to voters, and transportation watchers are concerned about the $34 million per year void that creates in the state’s bridge program which has struggled to gain ground after decades of under funding.
By Kathryn Buxton
When the Maine Legislature adjourned this July, it did so without voting to send a transportation bond to voters. That worried many in the transportation industry for a variety of reasons, including the impact it would have on the state’s efforts to address its backlog of structurally deficient bridges. If the legislature does not pass a bond, it will put a $30 million hole in MaineDOT’s bridge program over the next two years. The department has identified 58 bridge projects in 15 counties that are at risk of delay.
“This is not a good time to put Maine’s bridge program on hold,” said Tom Gorrill, president of the Maine Better Transportation Association (MBTA) that for the past 74 years has advocated for sound investment in the state’s transportation infrastructure. “MaineDOT was counting on that bond for the current work plan and bridge projects will be put on hold if there is no bond.”
The lack of a bond comes at a time when bridges and bridge safety have been in the news. On May 23, a section of the I-5 bridge in Mount Vernon, Washington fell into the Skagit River. The bridge was built in 1955 and was on an important north-south corridor that leads to the border with Canada. On a typical day it carried 71,000 vehicles, and on that day, one of those vehicles was an over height truck that struck the bridge. That, investigators believe, caused the collapse. Fortunately, no one was killed. Still, it was a timely reminder that states, including Maine, cannot afford to be complacent about aging bridges.
Not keeping pace
The bridge safety issue has stayed in the forefront of the news since the I-5 bridge collapse, thanks in part to The Fix We’re In For 2013, a Transportation for America report ranking the condition of the nation’s 70,000 bridges. In that report, Maine’s bridges were found to be ninth worst in the nation, a decline since the last time the report was issued in 2011. At that time, Maine’s bridges were ranked 12th worst.
“This report really highlights the great effort that has gone into addressing a problem that has grown to be a national crisis,” said MBTA Executive Director Maria Fuentes. “We’ve made impressive gains here in Maine, but we have been outpaced by other states with more resources. Still, the fact that there are still so many deficient bridges remaining – everywhere, not just in Maine – means we have more work to do.”
Keeping the state’s bridges safe has required heightened diligence in recent years, as the inventory of aging bridges has strained MaineDOT resources. A large proportion of Maine’s bridges were originally built during the mid-20th century and as they reached and, in some cases, surpassed their expected lifespans during the past 10 years, the state’s inventory of deficient bridges outpaced available funding. In 2007, Maine had 356 bridges classified by the Federal Highway Administration as structurally deficient – about 15 percent of the state’s total inventory of bridges. By 2008, that number had grown to 386.
A turning point occurred in August 2007 when the I-35W bridge collapsed in Minnesota, killing 13 people. That event grabbed headlines and sparked a nationwide effort to make bridges a priority. In Maine, Governor John Baldacci’s office ordered a task force to study the problem and make recommendations. The report that came out of that effort, Keeping Our Bridges Safe, found that Maine’s bridges were safe, but in decline and in need of an additional $50-60 million in annual funding. In 2008, the Maine Legislature responded to the crisis by establishing the TransCap bond fund and dedicating $160 million in one-time funding to fix Maine’s bridges over four years. TransCap was the result of L.D. 1790: An Act to Secure Maine’s Transportation Future, a bill envisioned as a building block for sustainable road and bridge funding, and it did help put the state on a path toward a solution.
Today, thanks to the TransCap fund and to additional bridge funding from the federal government’s economic recovery effort following the recession, the state’s inventory of deficient bridges has once again been reduced to 2007 levels and stands at 356. Maine has been able to reduce its inventory of deficient bridges, including rehabilitating or replacing several “extraordinary bridges” – big ticket bridges such as the Veterans Bridge in Portland, Knickerbocker Bridge in Boothbay, Martin’s Point Bridge connecting Falmouth and Portland and Memorial Bridge over the Piscataqua River at Kittery and Portsmouth, New Hampshire. If the legislature is able to pass a transportation bond similar to the $100-plus million bond proposals put forward by Governor LePage and Transportation Committee Chair Ed Mazurek at the start of the legislative session, the annual bridge funding deficit will narrow to an estimated $19 million a year over the next three years. If a bond is not passed, that deficit will increase to $34 million a year.
“Everyone can see we’ve made progress in making our bridges safer, but 356 bridges are still at risk,” said MBTA’s Gorrill. “Without that bond funding, Maine’s bridge program will lose ground.”
Many transportation advocates would like to see leaders in Washington and Augusta look beyond the next few years to find a sustainable, long-term funding source to replace gas tax revenues that have continued to decline due to gains in fuel efficiency.
“The truth is, we still don’t have the funds to do what we need to do. We have a lot of bridges yet to fix, including ‘gateway’ bridges like the Sarah Long Bridge in Kittery and the International Bridge at Madawaska,” said MBTA’s Fuentes. “That TransCap and federal recovery money was important, but that money is gone. A bond will help cover part of the gap, but we also need to be thinking about a more lasting solution.”
Burden of public safety
The public rarely thinks about the safety of their bridges until one falls down or is shut down – case in point was the temporary closing of the Sarah Long Bridge connecting Kittery with Portsmouth, New Hampshire, earlier this year, after a tug boat hit it, or the I-5 bridge collapse in May. The news captures headlines for a few days and then quiets down.
Behind the scenes, bridge safety is a constant concern for MaineDOT engineers. They are all too aware of the challenges of coaxing ever more years of service out of bridges that were built for another time when traffic levels were lower and vehicle weights were lighter. Chip Getchell, director of MaineDOT’s work plan division, described how, after the 2007 Minnesota bridge tragedy, the department took the findings of Keep Our Bridges Safe to heart and continue to keep public safety at the forefront. Engineers inspect the state’s fracture critical bridges every year. That is twice as often as the FHWA recommends, including rigorous, hands-on fracture critical inspections of the trusses on a 24-month rotating basis.
MaineDOT also has included bridges in the department’s campaign to introduce performance measures to its planning process. And when a critical event takes place, such as the May bridge collapse in Washington state, the department wastes no time to get out in the field, perform on-the-spot inspections and evaluate the risks.
At the request of MaineDOT Commissioner David Bernhardt, the department completed a risk assessment of Maine’s remaining steel truss bridges within 30 days of the I-5 bridge collapse in May. When it is necessary, the MaineDOT has been clear that it will not hesitate to post or close a bridge it believes to be unsafe. Currently, there are 55 bridges in Maine that have been either closed or posted with weight limits.
“Out of all of this, I hope that the message comes through that Maine’s bridges are safe,” said Getchell.
Sharing the burden
Peter Krakoff, an engineer with CPM Constructors, served on the 2007 task force that produced the Keeping Our Bridges Safe report, and he is not optimistic about the prospects for more funding to fix bridges. The problem, as he sees it, is one of funding priorities and sometimes unrealistic expectations from the public.
“If you look at what we invest in our infrastructure, it is very small compared to other countries,” said Krakoff. “We spend about three to four percent of our gross national product. In Europe they spend five percent. In India, it’s six or seven percent. In China, it’s seven or eight percent.”
Krakoff said the message is simple: “We are underfunded.” Like others, he credits MaineDOT for doing the best it can with the funding available, setting clear priorities, tackling the worst, highest traffic bridges first and squeezing as many years of service as possible out of each bridge.
“They’re doing the best they can to increase the lifespan of bridges because that means fewer bridges to replace. If you can get another 20 years out of a bridge, you’re doing a good job.”
Still, he fears that one upshot of the funding crunch will be that rural towns will suffer a disproportionate burden as a greater proportion of Maine’s limited resources go to more populous communities. Krakoff worries about the inequities and points out that safe bridges are just as critical, if not more so, to the businesses and residents of those towns. Communities frequently request enhancements on bridge projects that can strain budgets, and Krakoff believes that as long as elected officials in Augusta and Washington continue to avoid addressing a funding solution, communities will have to step up to fill the gap for any kind of infrastructure extras to bridges that are anything other than “utilitarian or basic.”
Krakoff said, it’s about fairness and making a limited transportation budget go as far as possible.
“Yes, we all benefit from a good-looking bridge, but the question is ‘Can we afford it?’” said Krakoff. “If we want enhancements for our town, our town should be paying something, as well.”
Budget passed, but no bond
The 126th Maine Legislature closes its first session without passing the bond the budget was built upon
By John Melrose
With the attention of Governor LePage, Maine legislators and the media focused on the General Fund budget and other matters, the Highway Fund budget passed this year with little notice in a moment of policy consensus. The budget provides Highway Fund appropriations to MaineDOT in FY 14 of $244.2 million and in FY 15 of $243.5 million. That is an $8 million per year decline in appropriations from FY 13.
A major victory for MBTA in this budget is a shift in the Highway Fund share of the Maine State Police funding from 49 percent to 35 percent. That will generate $13.2 million in savings over the next two years.
The history of MBTA and the constitutional dedication of the Highway Fund are deeply intertwined, going back three-quarters of a century. That is when the MBTA began a long fight to protect Highway Fund revenues from being diverted to non-transportation-related uses. For many years now, the organization has maintained that the state relied too heavily on Highway Funds to support non-transportation-related State Police activities, and in 2011 MBTA completed a legal review of the issue going back to a 1948 amendment to the Maine Constitution. Before this session, the organization had shared that research with the governor’s office and legislative leaders.
Governor LePage presented the change in the cost sharing arrangement between the Highway and General funds during the most recent budget process, and at session's end, the legislature largely agreed with the governor's proposal. MBTA is very grateful to the governor for pursuing and presenting this change in the budgets.
A second victory for MBTA came with the inclusion of a $50 million federally financed GARVEE (grant anticipation revenue vehicle) bond in the budget authorization. The seeds for a GARVEE were planted early in the session with a bill calling for an $80 million GARVEE sponsored by Senate Transportation Committee Chair Edward Mazurek (MBTA had worked with Senator Mazurek on the bill). When the governor’s support for an $80 million GARVEE appeared uncertain, that legislation was set aside in lieu of placing a smaller GARVEE authorization into the budget with the administration's support. Up to $40 million from the GARVEE bond may be needed to complete Maine’s share of funding for the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge replacement (New Hampshire is providing half of the funding for the bridge that spans the Piscataqua River between Kittery, Maine and Portsmouth, New Hampshire.) The balance will be made available for “other highway and bridge capital needs statewide.”
The $8 million decline in Highway Fund revenues noted at the beginning of this article has required MaineDOT to reduce its commitment of 600 miles of maintenance paving per year. Even after a $17.3 million transfer of TransCap capital funds to the light capital account where maintenance paving is funded, there will be a 100- to 200-mile reduction in miles paved during the next two years.
An additional $20 million was transferred out of the TransCap account to a capital line in the budget. Over the strong objections of MBTA, the budget redefined capital projects using TransCap funds as having a useful life of five years or more, instead of 10 years. This enabled MaineDOT to use these funds for maintenance paving and other shorter-lived projects. MBTA has opposed similar proposals in the past, but the especially tight budget outlook this year made legislators more sympathetic to MaineDOT’s request. Fortunately, the revised definition of capital is only for years 2014 and 2105 and is not ongoing.
Because of the transfer of TransCap funds, there is no capital funding appropriated in this budget, and the governor and legislature approved a budget with no direct appropriation from the Highway Fund to the capital line in Highway and Bridge Capital. The budget, as it was enacted, assumed passage of Governor LePage's proposed $100 million transportation bond, and MaineDOT has expressed concern the legislature adjourned on July 9 without taking action on any one of the 32 bonds under consideration.
MaineDOT has released a list of “at risk” capital projects, projects that could be cut from the work plan if the legislature does not send a transportation bond to the voters. [Download a copy of MaineDOT’s at risk projects in the Hot Topics section at www.MBTAonline.org.]
For its part, MBTA continues to urge passage of L.D. 942: An Act to Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue to Invest in Deficient State Highways, Bridges and Aviation, Marine, Rail and Transit Facilities. Of the various transportation bond proposals filed this year, L.D. 942 is the most balanced, comprehensive and responsive means for meeting the substantial transportation capital needs facing Maine. It specifies funding for all modes and reflects broad feedback from persons and organizations. It leverages possible matching funds from federal, local and private sources to the maximum extent.
L.D. 942 will enable MaineDOT to continue its efforts to address the backlog of deficient bridges initiated in 2008. On average, every sixth bridge in Maine is rated structurally deficient by the Federal Highway Administration. L.D. 942 also targets highway reconstruction and rehabilitation on the priority road network that carries 70 percent of all travel and specifically targets roads rated in poor or unacceptable condition by MaineDOT. Roughly 1,500 miles of arterials and major collector highways in Maine have that rating.
Governor LePage’s transportation bond proposal, L.D. 1095, bears many similarities to L.D. 942 but notably contains $17 million less for road reconstruction and rehabilitation. It also provides less detail on allocations for other modes.
While MBTA prefers L.D. 942, the association is pleased to see so much commonality between these two proposals.
A final note regarding the budget involves changes to the Local Road Assistance Program (LRAP). The governor’s original budget sought to transfer motor vehicle excise tax receipts for heavy trucks from municipalities to the state.
This idea was a non-starter with the Transportation Committee. The administration proposed and the committee accepted the following provisions: the repeal of an archaic LRAP “hold harmless” provision that dated back to the 1990s; a switch from quarterly to annual LRAP payments; repeal of the Transit Bonus Program in FY2015; and a reduction in overall funding to 9 percent of the MaineDOT budget from Highway Fund starting in the second year of the biennium. According to MaineDOT, the latter provision represents roughly a 10 percent cut in annual payments to municipalities.
MBTA followed the progress of many other bills filed this year. There were numerous bills in front of the Transportation Committee dealing with the Maine Turnpike Authority, public-private partnerships and the East-West highway proposal. In the end, none of the worrisome aspects of these bills passed.
Only one bill under consideration this year attempted to substantively address declining Highway Fund revenues: L.D. 614, filed by Representative Ann Peoples of Westbrook. That bill proposed to shift a portion of the per gallon motor fuel excise tax to a retail sales tax. The Taxation Committee unanimously defeated this proposal. In a nod to the severity of the Highway Fund’s declining fortunes, the Appropriations Committee sent a letter to the Transportation Committee acknowledging the problem, but offering no remedy.
The Taxation Committee voted unanimously to support L.D. 996, a bill that would have cut motor fuel taxes by $623,000 for the biennium. Fortunately, this bill was sent back for further work to the Taxation Committee upon the recommendation of the Transportation Committee.
For those waiting for better times, drink up. The new state liquor contract passed by the legislature provides 35 percent of net liquor sales revenues to go to transportation capital investment once the revenue bonds issued to pay off the hospitals are retired. This is expected to occur within seven to 10 years.
Maine’s newest U.S. Senator talks transportation at PACTS annual meeting
U.S. Senator Angus King found time to talk about transportation in the midst of a busy June day. The occasion was the Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System’s (PACTS) 2013 annual meeting June 6 at the University of Southern Maine’s Glickman Family Library in Portland, and Maine’s freshman senator was the featured speaker, working in the appearance between national TV appearances on morning and evening news talk shows.
PACTS Executive Director John Duncan welcomed the crowd of 90 state legislators, municipal officials and community transportation advocates to the event and then turned the podium over to Senator King
For his part, Senator King offered a freshman’s insights to “the world’s greatest deliberative body,” which of late has become polarized over issues including debt, gun control, immigration reform, internet privacy and health care.
He said the much-ballyhooed “lack of collegiality” is not as evident when he and his fellow senators are one-on-one.
“It’s bad, but it’s not as bad as you think,” said King. “There is still collegiality and there is still discussion.”
King also talked about the budget sequester that calls for $984 million in cuts to government programs over the next 10 years. He said that while the deficit is actually at the lowest level of GDP (gross domestic product) in 45 years, the focus on further cuts to government spending is “like invading Brazil after Pearl Harbor.”
With that thought, King transitioned to a discussion of transportation, noting that in this era of budget cutting and deep ideological divisions, “there is a lot at stake for you guys.”
And if they were unsure, the audience got a clear idea of the new senator’s positions on basic transportation policy, including his support for passing a full-length, five-year transportation authorization when the current two-year authorization (Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century or MAP-21) expires next year.
“Not doing a five-year transportation authorization, as you know better than I, makes it really difficult to plan,” said King. “I want to get back to a five-year authorization.”
He also offered up a new definition of “deficit” – one that included deferred repair and maintenance on important public infrastructure, including “broken bridges and failing sewer systems . . . because not fixing things is debt,” said King.
“Eventually it is going to have to be paid for by someone and, if we don’t, it will be our children.” Still, King confessed that with other issues consuming debate time on the Senate and House floors and the talk show airwaves, “there’s not a lot of interest in this in Washington.”
He said the only way to redirect Congressional attention to the bread-and-butter issue of transportation infrastructure is for citizens to communicate with Congressional leaders and build a call for change and increased funding
“You are preaching to the choir with me and Susan Collins, but we are responsive to our constituents and so are our colleagues across the country.”
And before veering off topic to answer questions about the filibuster rules, climate change and the National Security Administration, King offered this promise of support: “Infrastructure is something I want to do something about.”
The meeting also offered an opportunity for some PACTS housekeeping and self-congratulation, offered up by Duncan and Policy Committee Chair David Marshall.
“It’s been a pretty big year,” said Duncan. He and Marshall talked of the organization’s transition from a metropolitan planning organization (MPO) to a transportation management association (TMA), a federal designation that among other things gives local governments and constituents a greater role in the planning process for federal transportation dollars. The transition has brought renewed alliances with area businesses including L.L. Bean and IDEXX to address transportation issues including congestion and access, in addition to working toward consolidation of key functions of the region’s transit organizations, as a way to reduce costs and improve service and efficiency.
FMI: PACTS is the transportation management association (TMA) for the Greater Portland region and was established to improve the coordination of transportation planning and investment decisions by state, municipal and public transportation organizations. To learn more, visit www. pactsplan.org.
MBTA’s Maria Fuentes talks about transportation with Senator Ron Collins (R-York County) and Representative Wayne Parry (R-Arundel), members 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 Collins: In York County, they talk mostly about toll increases on the Maine Turnpike. I have also had some inquiries about putting rumble strips on Route 4 and Route 9, due to a rash of head-on collisions. There was a real tragedy earlier this year with a 16-year-old boy crossing the center line and killing a young mother.
Representative Parry: They typically talk to me about local road issues, for instance, intersections. I live on Route 111 in Arundel, which is a tough road in terms of having dangerous intersections all along it. The intersections on Route 111 with New Road and Hill Road are being improved with turning lanes on one road, and other improvements on the other.
Maria Fuentes: The Maine Legislature identified 19 percent of all public roads as the highest priority roads because they carry 70 percent of all traffic; 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 Collins: As soon as funding is available to perform the necessary work. We cannot do the work if we don’t have the money to do it.
Representative Parry: Since I am not an engineer, I would say that we need to do them as soon as possible, within our budget constraints. MaineDOT has done a good job of prioritizing and patching up the worst roads in order to extend their life.
Maria 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 Collins: The funding should come from two sources: a partnership between the General Fund and Highway Fund, with the General Fund contributing about 15 percent of highway fund needs. In addition to that, we need to continue bonding, which makes sense for projects that are going to last for a long time.
Representative Parry: The funding should come from the General Fund; I have always advocated for that. The State Police shift was a significant one and I am glad we got it through. The General Fund helps the Highway Fund a little, through paying for debt service on bonds, but we should be getting direct appropriations. Other states on average get 17 percent from the General Fund, and we should try to get at least that much.
Maria 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 Collins: I feel as though there should be a partnership between the Highway Fund and the General Fund. The priorities should be highways and bridges. In other states, the general fund pays a large portion of the transportation budget. That should happen in Maine, as well.
Representative Parry: I think we need both. If we had more General Fund allocations, we could do a better job with our system. If we rely strictly on the fuel tax, both state and federal, we overburden our citizens to the point that they cannot drive.
Maria Fuentes: Do you support sending a transportation bond to the voters in November of this year to fund highways, bridges, ports, buses, airports, rail and trails?
Senator Collins: Yes, I do, but primarily for highways and bridges.
Representative Parry: Yes, many projects are waiting for funding. I strongly support a transportation bond. In addition to highways and bridges, we need investment in at least one major rail project – with the Eimskip operation in Portland. We need to bring rail right to the ships in order to compete with other states and countries.
Maria 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 of that to travel a mile. How would you address this growing inequity built into the current motor fuel tax?
Senator Collins: At first blush, I would say let’s put a surcharge on the excise tax, but that won’t work because it pays for municipal programs and projects. Perhaps we should look at a mileage fee.
Representative Parry: John Melrose had a great idea on this: to charge electric cars and hybrid owners more. Perhaps we could have an add-on on the registration fees. Either way, they are doing damage to the system, so they should help pay for the repairs.
Maria 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 Collins: My constituents down here didn’t like it, so I was a strong proponent of overturning that. I would say not.
Representative Parry: No, it shouldn’t be, because it was the right decision. If we want to discuss increasing fuel taxes, we should have an up or down vote on an increase. We shouldn’t have this tax on “auto-pilot.”
Maria 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 Collins: Yes, absolutely.
Representative Parry: Absolutely! New Hampshire should either be providing a direct allocation or should be paying more for tickets for riders to get on and off at any of the stops in New Hampshire.
Maria 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 Collins: Yes, I am. It is clear that has been a successful partnership between the public sector and the private sector, and we need to promote jobs in the entire state.
Representative Parry: From everything I have heard, it is working very well. As long as freight continues to grow, we should use more rail, especially as users pay and there are fewer subsidies.
Maria Fuentes: Beyond highway investments, what are your priorities for improving passenger and freight transportation?
Senator Collins: We need to continue to support new, additional funding sources for the Highway Fund. There are a number of national organizations that are working on this, and we need to pay close attention to these funding mechanisms.
Representative Parry: Rail should be a priority where appropriate and financially feasible in tough economic times. We should continue to subsidize building the infrastructure, but users must pay for using the rail.
Maria Fuentes: What accomplishment are you most proud of this session?
Senator Collins: Passing both the supplemental and biennial Highway Fund budgets. The committee had unanimous votes on difficult budgets.
Representative Parry: With very limited resources, the Transportation Committee unanimously put together a strong budget. We are very fortunate in the Transportation Committee – we don’t do partisan. We work across the aisle and, if there is any disagreement, it is more often regional. As the Republican lead, I had a great relationship with Chairman Mazurek and Chairman Theriault. We only had one 9-to-4 committee report all year. So it was very satisfying to work together on that committee; there are great people on it.
Adapting to the times
Looking ahead to three-quarters of a century at the MBTA
It was the traditional passing of the torch at the 74th MBTA Annual Meeting, May 9at the Augusta Civic Center. Handing off the torch was outgoing MBTA President Doug Hermann, who had seen the organization successfully through a challenging year. Receiving the torch was incoming President Tom Gorrill, who seized the opportunity to urge MBTA members to look forward as the organization approached its 75th anniversary.
“Things have changed dramatically since 1939, and we have had to change with the times,” said Gorrill, speaking to the 220 MBTA members, friends and other transportation leaders gathered for the annual event. “We need to continue to adapt to the times, if we hope to keep a competitive transportation system so vital to supporting a strong economy.” He also called for the MBTA to “sharpen its focus on its organizational strengths” and to take the lead in furthering its mission.
“We must figure out what we do best – what is our niche? How do we best serve the needs of our diverse membership? There are construction associations that focus on labor issues, training, and safety on the work site . . . There are engineering organizations that focus on technical issues, professional development, and much more,” said Gorrill. “MBTA, on the other hand is not an organization that serves a specific industry, as you can see by looking through our directory of members. Our focus is advocating for funding for transportation infrastructure, and we look to our members, to other organizations and partners to support us with this mission.”
Gorrill announced an ambitious agenda for this coming year, beginning with a reassessment of the MBTA’s strategic plan, last undertaken six years ago.
“Last time we updated our strategic plan was in 2007, led by past president Tim Folster,” said Gorrill. “The world has changed since 2007. I know I am not running my business the same way I did in 2007, and I doubt your organizations are being run the same way. Similarly, the MBTA has changed with the times. What we have done in the past doesn’t necessarily work in the future.”
Gorrill called for MBTA members to enthusiastically launch the organization’s latest initiative – the Fix It NOW! campaign – conceived during his predecessor Doug Hermann’s term. Gorrill said that will include using a four-pronged approach of research, partnering, public education and public involvement.
Said Gorrill: “Our Fix it NOW! campaign is an effort to raise awareness about the need to invest more in transportation and figure out a way to get information about local projects to the people. We are planning to ‘take it to the streets,’ so to speak. People in Augusta and Washington know what groups like ours think about transportation, but they need to hear from many others. They need to hear from people other than the ‘usual suspects.’”
Even before the ceremonial transfer of power, MBTA members were looking ahead, beginning with a panel titled “On the Road: Looking Forward,” with MaineDOT Commissioner David Bernhardt and Maine Turnpike Executive Director Peter Mills and moderated by the MBTA’s Hermann. Hermann launched the panel discussion with his characteristic dry humor.
“Good afternoon,” said Hermann. “My name is Doug Hermann and I’m president of the Maine Better Transportation Association for the next four hours.”
The Bernhardt-Mills talk has become something of a tradition in recent years, as the leaders of Maine’s two transportation agencies meet with MBTA leaders to discuss their respective work plans for the coming year. The event was “sold out,” with MBTA members eager to hear the transportation chiefs’ respective forecasts for the coming year.
For his part, Mills began by talking about the past year, one of unprecedented safety on the turnpike. “This is the first year we have had no fatalities on the highway,” said Mills. He also touched on his agency’s recent successful launch of highway speed tolling at the New Gloucester toll plaza, and work the authority plans to undertake during the next several years to maintain and update its electronic tolling infrastructure, along with successful efforts to keep costs to a minimum and eliminate the need for a toll increase until at least 2018.
Bernhardt spoke about several issues that were part of the current budget and that were yet to be resolved by the state legislature, including a decision on the reallocation of General Fund-Highway Fund support for the Maine State Police, harmonization of truck weight rules and extension of the department’s Municipal Partnership Initiative that is set to be expanded from $7 million in the last biennium to $10 million in the new work plan. He noted that the department planned approximately 600 miles of light capital paving annually over the next two years “to keep user costs down.” He also talked about the department’s internal efforts to contain costs, including continued staff reductions.
“We’re eliminating more positions this year,” said Bernhardt. “And since 2005, we’ve cut 340 positions and approximately 450 paychecks equaling approximately $23 million.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Because the Maine Legislature did not yet pass a transportation bond by the session’s end, what will and will not be included in the new MaineDOT work plan has yet to be determined as of press time. MaineDOT had programmed $100 million in new bond funding in its 2013-2015 work plan, and projects will have to be cut if a bond is not negotiated by leadership by year-end. Since the annual meeting, MaineDOT announced that it will cut its light capital paving program from 600 miles a year to 500 miles over the next two years, due to budget constraints.
For all the talk about looking ahead, MBTA members were certain to look back at the past year’s achievements and express their gratitude to outgoing MBTA President Hermann for his leadership. The MBTA presented Hermann, an avid outdoorsman and hiker, with a token of its appreciation, a framed photograph of Mount Katahdin – and a rousing round of applause. As Gorrill noted: “Doug’s dry sense of humor, keen sense of the challenges facing our members, incredible generosity – not only financially but of his time and knowledge – and certainly his competitive spirit - have served the association well.”
- Anderson Equipment Company
- The Lane Construction Corporation
- Auburn Concrete
- Berkley Surety Group
- H.O. Bouchard, Inc.
- Chadwick-BaRoss, Inc.
- Cross Insurance/Cross Surety
- T.Y. Lin International
- Bruce A. Manzer, Inc.
- CPM Constructors
- Milton CAT
- The Rowley Agency, Inc.
- VHB/Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc.
- A.D. Electric, Inc.
- F.R. Carroll, Inc.
- Darling’s Auto Group
- Fay, Spofford & Thorndike, LLC
- GZA GeoEnvironmental, Inc.
- Milone and MacBroom, Inc.
- Parsons Brinckerhoff
- Pike Industries
- Sargent Corporation
- Shaw Brothers Construction Inc.
- Whited Peterbilt of Maine
- Willis of Northern New England, Inc.
- Wyman & Simpson, Inc.
- @WORK Personnel Services, Inc.
- CCB, Inc.
- Ciment Quebec
- Clean Harbors
- John T. Cyr & Sons, Inc.
- Gorham Sand & Gravel, Inc.
- R.J. Grondin & Sons, Inc.
- Haley & Aldrich, Inc.
- Hanover Insurance Company
- Hews Company LLC
- Jordan Equipment Co.
- Maine Drilling & Blasting, Inc.
- Maine Tourism Association
- McFarland Johnson, Inc.
- Portland International Jetport
- Pratt & Sons, Inc.
- E.J. Prescott, Inc.
- Prock Marine Company
- Skillings-Shaw & Associates, Inc.
- Strescon Limited
- Thompson Rolec Enterprises, LLC
- Wellman Paving, Inc.
Washington County Meeting
The readiness is all
WCCC’s Cassidy talks about preparing Maine students for the new workplace
Dr. William Cassidy has seen a lot of change in academics and workforce development over the past 38 years. That is how long he has been involved in post-secondary education. His most recent stint has been as interim president of Washington County Community College (WCCC) in Calais, a post he was named to in 2012. He retired from that post two weeks after he addressed the Washington County Meeting of the MBTA, June 13 at the Eastport Chowder House in Eastport. The meeting was attended by more than 65 MBTA members and friends, including former Maine Senate President Kevin Raye, Eastport Selectman Karen Raye, guests of CPM Constructors, who also brought Perry Harbormaster Captain Gerald Morrison and his family. Also attending were Eastport Port Authority Executive Director and County Commission Chair Chris Gardner and the Honorable Vinton Cassidy, a former Maine senator who served on the Maine Legislature’s Transportation Committee and is also a Washington County Commissioner. Vint recently retired from his teaching post at the college.
Bill Cassidy was the featured speaker at the meeting, and he took the opportunity to introduce his nephew Joseph Cassidy to the group. The younger Cassidy, a long-time educator, former district attorney for Washington County and mayor of Calais, recently had been nominated as the new president of WCCC (he officially became president of the college on July 1).
The senior Cassidy offered an insider’s view of the school for the MBTA members assembled, many who rely on the community college as a steady source of skilled labor. The school is a major player in workforce development in Downeast Maine and offers several courses of study that lead to careers in transportation and construction, including studies in automotive technologies, heavy equipment operations, heavy equipment maintenance and preparatory courses that connect students to bachelor and masters degree programs at the University of Maine’s construction management technology program and Maine Maritime Academy.
Cassidy said one of the biggest changes during his nearly four decades in post-secondary education has been the growing need for schools to provide a broad network of support services. He likens it to the school becoming an extended family of sorts, an organization that nurtures students as they transition to their professional lives. WCCC provides students with just about everything they need to thrive in school, from remedial math and science courses and career-building skills – workplace safety, communications and teamwork – that will serve them well in any career they may choose. The school also offers life skills, including campus cooking classes and access to a student food pantry for those struggling to make ends meet as they work to improve their lives. There also is an emphasis on instilling a sense of community among students, and the school encourages them to get involved in community service projects.
According to Cassidy, WCCC academic and student life programs are all about “work readiness” and preparing graduates with much more to offer employers than just entry level skills. He said WCCC graduates are “ever ready to change and grow on the job.”
That approach of caring for the whole student has worked, garnering WCCC recognition among its peers, including a Top 10 Community College ranking by the Aspen Institute for student retention and graduation rates.
The Washington County Meeting is the first in a series of annual summer MBTA events, and MBTA President Tom Gorrill served as the evening’s emcee. Gorrill thanked Pathfinder and Innovator sponsors Chadwick-BaRoss and Wyman & Simpson for their support and updated members on developments in Augusta where the 126th Maine Legislature was just wrapping up its first session. He also spoke of the organization’s progress on initiatives including the Fix It Now! campaign. Eastport Port Authority’s Chris Gardner also spoke and welcomed the MBTA to his city and talked about recent developments at the Port of Eastport.
FMI: The MBTA hosts several regional forums addressing current issues, including transportation, education, the economy and trade. To learn more, visit the Events page at www.MBTAonline.org.
2013 MBTA Washington County Meeting
Pathfinder Sponsor: Chadwick-BaRoss
Innovator Sponsor: Wyman & Simpson
The Penobscot Bay & River Pilot Association sees future for Maine in its maritime heritage
By Kathryn Buxton
Every month, the pilots of Penobscot Bay & River Pilots Association (PBRPA) guide 15 or so ocean going vessels to dock in Searsport, Bucksport, Bangor and Bar Harbor. And once their cargo is discharged or loaded, the pilots guide the ships back out to sea. They follow a Maine – and U.S. – maritime tradition established in 1789 when the young U.S. Congress gave states the right to regulate the arrival and departure of commercial ships in their ports and created what came to be known as the pilotage profession in the United States.
That connection to history and the founding fathers’ work to promote a safe and efficient freight transportation system is not lost on Captain David Gelinas of PBRPA, a privately owned pilotage business based in Searsport.
“That link to Maine’s maritime heritage is one of the most wonderful parts of the job,” said Gelinas. “One hundred and fifty years ago, it was lumber and barrel staves. Today it is manufactured components from Cianbro bound for the Gulf of Mexico or Canada.”
The need for a network of harbor pilots for safe passage of large commercial vessels is essential in Maine, where the coastal topography is particularly challenging. Kasey Feld described those challenges in her essay, A History of Pilotage in Maine: “The approximate 3,500 miles of jutting rocks, hidden shoals, and jagged reefs create dangerous passage . . .” Feld notes that while pilotage was established by Congress in 1789, it wasn’t officially on the books in Maine until shortly after the region secured statehood in 1820, though because of concerns about added costs for shippers, it was voluntary for many years. Pilotage became compulsory for U.S.- and foreign-registered ships with a draft greater than nine feet entering and exiting Maine waters in 1969.
The opportunity to write a new chapter in Maine’s maritime history has been a strong draw for the five pilots of PBRPA, founded by Gelinas and Captains Robert Spear and Skip Strong 17 years ago. Today, five pilots form the core of the business: Gelinas, Strong, Captain Jeff Cockburn, Captain David Smith and Captain Adam Philbrook (Spear passed away in 2010). All six past and present PBRPA pilots are graduates of Maine Maritime Academy and all found their way back to Maine after “paying their dues” working on merchant marine ships throughout the world.
Today, the pilots of PBRPA are responsible for guiding any vessel required to take a pilot into and out of ports on Penobscot and Frenchman bays, as well as on the Penobscot River. That includes the vessels calling at the ports of Searsport, Bucksport, Bar Harbor and Bangor. The job is a 24-hour-seven-day-a-week one, because international marine commerce operates around the clock.
Gelinas said port traffic on Frenchman and Penobscot has rebounded somewhat from the recession that hit the region and national economy hard in 2008. That has largely been because of increased cruise ship activity in Bar Harbor and shipments of large-scale manufactured components from the Cianbro plant in Bangor. Meanwhile traditional freight has been slower to recover, despite recent investments in port infrastructure, including a $6 million heavy lift mobile harbor crane at Searsport.
As pilots, PBRPA have become vocal advocates for the marine transport industry, frequently speaking out in support of port investments locally and at the state and federal level. Gelinas and PBRPA have worked with MBTA to promote state investments, including several get-out-the-vote efforts for recent transportation bonds supported by the MBTA. Gelinas also is a member of the Maine Pilotage Commission and president of the regional chapter of the U.S. Propeller Club. Gelinas and PBRPA co-founder Strong both frequently lecture at the Maine Maritime Academy, ensuring that future generations are ready to take up careers in the merchant marine.
One transformative element in Maine’s marine history currently unfolding is a revolution in container and break bulk shipping as world markets look for competitively priced, fuel-efficient shipping alternatives.
“There’s tremendous potential here for both inbound and outbound freight. It’s a cost-effective and green way to transport goods,” said Gelinas, adding that if you look at what is happening at other major marine waterways – including problems with water levels and transport costs for ships in the St. Lawrence Seaway and Great Lakes – Searsport and Mack Point become even more attractive as ports of call.
Gelinas notes that the existing rail connection gives shippers a competitive alternative with direct, cost-effective and uncongested links to Canada and the Midwest. The key will be coordinating among state officials, port advocates and rail operators to woo shippers with land-sea packages much like the enticements put together for Icelandic shipper Eimskip earlier this year by the state, Pan Am Railway and the city of Portland.
“It can be a complicated relationship between a shipper, a transport company and a port, but if you look at the big picture, we’ve got the deep water and the rail connections, and we offer very competitive transportation compared to other ports. There is so much potential – we just need to market and to get the word out.”
Just how complicated that relationship can become was evidenced during efforts to establish liquid propane gas storage facilities at Mack Point. Gelinas points out that the drawn-out process has discouraged private investment in the port that would have brought jobs and other important benefits to the region, including advanced marine fire fighting capabilities.
He said the shipper would have been required to maintain a firefighting tugboat and emergency response crew, even though the company planned to bring in only six to eight ships a year. That would have meant that the towns and ports of upper Penobscot Bay would have had access to marine firefighting capabilities that don’t currently exist.
“That’s real infrastructure that could have had a positive impact on public safety, and it would have been paid for by the shipper,” said Gelinas.
Changing standards, changing times
Still, with all it has to offer, Gelinas and his fellow pilots are also keenly aware of challenges facing the region’s marine freight industry. Chief among those is the channel in Searsport that hasn’t been maintained since 1962.
“It’s been almost 50 years, and no other port that I know of can say they’ve enjoyed five decades with a navigable channel without any maintenance dredging. That speaks volumes to the value of this project and this waterway,” said Gelinas.
Still, the channel is beginning to silt in, and Maine could lose an important port asset if it does not take heed and perform maintenance dredging on the harbor. While Searsport is one of the region’s three fabled natural deep-water ports, Maine cannot afford to rest on those laurels and allow the channel to silt in any more. Increasing ship sizes and requirements among international shippers and insurers now call for a 10 percent of draft under keel clearance. That means a 39-40 foot ship requires up to 44 feet of depth. The channel was last dredged in 1964. Currently silt has reduced the channel depth to just 32 feet in places.
The federal government typically funds channel maintenance projects, and Maine voters already have approved funding for the state’s contribution toward channel improvements – $3 million. That was part of the most recent transportation bond approved by voters in November 2012. Still, Gelinas is concerned the project could get derailed by political pressure brought by anti-port activists. That would, he said, impact safety and be a loss to the businesses that depend on the port.
“Maintaining the channel is something we have to do,” said Gelinas. “This is for safety, and it will protect our harbor and Maine’s marine heritage.”
Penobscot Bay & River Pilots Association
Founded in 1996, Penobscot Bay and River Pilots Association is a group of marine pilots who provide pilotage service 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to foreign and U.S. vessels calling at ports in Penobscot and Frenchman Bay and on the Penobscot River.