Where are we now?
After passage of the bond, MBTA looks to update its strategic plan.
By Thomas Gorrill
Rebuilding an historic link.
Voters say ‘YES.’
$100 million transportation bond passes.
A theory of transportation evolution.
Interview with Maine Transportation Conference keynote speaker, Cynthia Burbank.
Getting down to business.
MBTA Convention returns to Portland.
The ‘watching place.’
Paving roads and planning for change in Skowhegan. By Kathryn Buxton
Overhauling hot mix asphalt.
MaineDOT looks at pavement performance. By Joyce Taylor, MaineDOT Chief Engineer
Where are we now?
By Thomas Gorrill
So where are we? It’s an age-old question and a good one. It’s a question that not only lets you reflect on how you’re doing, but where you would like to be and how to get there. For organizations like the MBTA, the next logical step is to revisit our strategic plan – that is, update the organization’s road map. These days, where that will take us, promises to be interesting.
Before we talk about the plan, however, I want to say thank you to everybody who helped get Question #3, the transportation bond, passed on November 5. I know that many MBTA members and others took the time to talk to their friends, families, and co-workers about the need for a transportation bond. Some of you also wrote guest columns, letters to the editor, or provided information about the bond in mailers to employees or co-workers. While transportation bond votes have historically passed, it is difficult to predict how voters will react at any one time. Over the past quarter century, transportation bonds have passed with a vote as low as 58 percent (2010) and a high of 78 percent (1997). Back in 1991, six out of seven bonds on the statewide ballot failed, with the transportation bond being the only one that passed.
In addition to everyone who talked it up or wrote letters, we were grateful that Rick McCarthy of the Mayors Coalition invited us, as well as many other groups, to participate in a press conference promoting all five bonds. Similarly, we worked with AGC and the Maine State Chamber and others on a press conference by Washington D.C.-based The Road Information Program (TRIP) detailing Maine’s 50 biggest transportation challenges. Special thanks to the International Marine Terminal in Portland and to H.O. Bouchard, Inc. in Hermon for allowing us to use their facilities for that event.
Being a public agency, MaineDOT didn’t take a position on the vote, but they certainly worked hard to put the package together with the Governor and legislators, and also provided critical information about which projects need funding. MBTA also had help from many other organizations who joined the coalition we spearheaded, and who used their networks to spread the word about the importance of getting to the polls on November 5.
So again, thank you. The $100 million in money – along with matching funds – that will be infused into our transportation system couldn’t have come at a more critical time. There are pressing needs in every corner of the state, and for every mode of transportation. If this bond had failed, MaineDOT would have been forced to cut tens of millions of dollars from its work plan, and gotten even further behind.
Passing the bond took considerable time and effort from many groups. Now, we can move on and focus on the upcoming legislative session. We also will be updating the MBTA’s strategic plan. I believe that a good place to start, as we enter this process, is to look at where we’ve been.
The last time MBTA did a strategic plan was in 2006-2007. That effort was led by then-MBTA President Tim Folster and left us with a valuable tool that has kept MBTA on track and moving forward.
These are challenging times, and I feel it is important to make an update to the strategic plan. It is a goal of my administration as MBTA president. I firmly believe we need a new road map, because the road ahead for us is foggy at best. We face tight federal and state budgets, limited resources and shrinking fuel tax revenues. We need to explore new ideas for taking care of our vast transportation network – one of the largest in New England. It’s time for a reality check.
Last time around, the MBTA came away with three strategic goals: make new friends; do our homework; and be more active. I think we have done a good job of living up to those goals. We have identified several partner groups and organizations that share common goals and formed strategic alliances. The bond coalition was an example of that. We have completed more research in order to increase our base of funding knowledge. We have called on members to become more active in the organization and to join members at events in their communities and throughout the state.
There are different schools of thought on how to best engage in strategic planning. A traditional approach is espoused by longtime strategy experts, the TCC Group: “A strategic plan is not a wish list, a report card or a marketing tool. It is certainly not a magic bullet or a quick cure for everything that ails an organization – especially if the plan winds up on the shelf. What a strategic plan can do is shed light on an organization’s unique strengths and relevant weaknesses, enabling it to pinpoint new opportunities or the causes of current or projected problems. If board and staff are committed to its implementation, a strategic plan can provide an invaluable blueprint for growth and revitalization, enabling an organization to take stock of where it is, determine where it wants to go and chart a course to get there. A strategic plan cannot succeed unless it is derived from a clear vision of what the organization will look like at a specific point in the future.”
So, as we move forward, the board will look at the association with the same mix of common sense and strategy that we employ at home and in our businesses, and we will ask ourselves the same question we ask ourselves every day: What’s next, and what’s the best way to get there?
I look forward to seeing you at the next two big MBTA events – the Maine Transportation Conference, Thursday December 5 at the Augusta Civic Center (co-sponsored by MaineDOT and the Maine Section, ASCE) and the MBTA Holiday Meeting, Thursday, December 12 at the Black Bear Inn in Orono. The Holiday Meeting will feature a presentation on our Fix It Now! campaign, a grassroots effort we have undertaken to help spread the word about the need for more funding. Also at the meeting, we will introduce many of our scholarship recipients, a great group of students who will be tomorrow’s transportation leaders.
Please join us.
After nearly 20 years, Kittery and Portsmouth have a new lift bridge to replace historic Memorial Bridge.
By Kathryn Buxton
It’s the way we like to see things work. In this case two states, their departments of transportation, a celebrated engineer and designer and a contracting firm building a brand-new lift bridge.
And on August 8, officials and citizens celebrated the opening of the multi-modal Memorial Bridge that crosses the Piscataqua River between Portsmouth, New Hampshire and Kittery, Maine following the path of its predecessor built in 1923. Budgeted at $81.4 million, the actual cost for the bridge may be closer to $90 million when all is said and done.
Still, good feelings flowed as freely as the first vehicles across the bridge following the opening ceremonies.
“This is a great example of teamwork,” New Hampshire Transportation Commissioner Chris Clement said at the opening festivities. “It speaks to what you can do when you put your mind to it. Once it was started, there was no stopping it.”
“This bridge is a model for all the other states when they’re looking for an example of innovation and cooperation,” said MaineDOT Commissioner David Bernhardt, speaking on behalf of Maine Governor Paul LePage.
“That cooperation between our states underscores just how important the Memorial Bridge is,” said New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan. By way of illustration she (as did others) singled out U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen, (D-New Hampshire) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) who together secured the $20 million federal TIGER grant that enabled the project to go forward.
What the two senators were able to accomplish was noteworthy, said Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez. He said that in four TIGER grant rounds, only 218 grants have been awarded out of 4,000 applications. The $20 million grant for the Memorial Bridge is also one of the largest grants given during the history of the award.
“So clearly, they did something right,” Mendez told the assembled.
Collins and Shaheen also talked about how proud they were to have worked together on the bridge.
‘‘Our one and only U.S. neighbor is New Hampshire,” said Senator Collins, “but we share much more than just the border. We share a history rooted in independence and a culture built on hard work and self-reliance,’’ she said. ‘‘We are here today because we also share an economy and a commitment to the future.’’
From Red List to renewal
The original Memorial Bridge was a steel truss design completed in 1923, and the story of its demise is a nail biter. The bridge is one of three spans crossing the Piscataqua River between Kittery and Portsmouth. As local lore has it, the bridge was built in the heart of Portsmouth to accommodate workers at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard who wanted to get to and from work as quickly as possible.
As early as 1994, when the bridge showed up on New Hampshire’s Red List of Bridges and Maine’s tally of deficient bridges, officials in the two states began the scramble to secure funding for the project. Heavy vehicles were banned from using the bridge since the early 2000s when inspectors determined the bridge’s steel structure was deteriorating.
The two states began to seriously debate the future of the Memorial Bridge in 2007. Originally, the plan was to rehabilitate the bridge. But by 2009 it was beginning to be clear that the bridge was in serious condition and officials posted the bridge with a 10-ton weight limit. By 2010, the bridge had deteriorated so badly, the two states considered closing the bridge altogether and shifting traffic to two nearby spans – the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge and the I-95 bridge. The prospect that the bridge, which had the only bicycle and pedestrian access connecting the two communities would permanently close, sparked a local movement – Save Our Bridges – to preserve all three bridges.
“There’s beginning to be an awareness now of how the community feels about the bridges. And when I say ‘community,’ I mean Kittery and Portsmouth, because we really are one community separated by a bridge,” Ben Porter of Save Our Bridges told the Portsmouth Herald in 2009. “We place enormous value on these bridges.”
Two separate reports – the New Hampshire-Maine Connections Study and the Bi-State Funding Task Force formed by Maine Governor John Baldacci and New Hampshire Governor John Lynch – looked at the economic impact of the bridges on communities in both states, as well as the funding outlook for replacement and ongoing maintenance for all three bridges spanning the Piscataqua River. Despite the enormous price tag of maintaining all three crossings, more than $506 million over 30 years, the two states agreed to go ahead with the replacement of the Memorial Bridge and to plan for the future of the Sarah Mildred Long and I-95 bridges.
It is important to note the task force was able to identify only $381.5 million in available funding from the two states, leaving a shortfall of nearly $125 million.
The 1923 Memorial Bridge reached the end of the road in July 2011 when it was closed to all vehicle traffic. Considering the complex nature of the project and the tight construction schedule, preparation and timing were essential for each phase of the project. The location of the bridge – part of a major north-south corridor linking the two states – influenced the decision to fast-track the project. For Keith Cota of NHDOT who served as chief project engineer for the project, there were several tense moments. He said if the bridge had been approached as a typical design-bid-build project, it would have taken up to four years to complete, compared with the 18-month project timeline established for the design-build project.
“The shape and condition of the old bridge and the importance of this bridge to the communities and economies of both states, played a major role in deciding to go with design-build,” said Cota. In November 2011, after New Hampshire and Maine officials evaluated designs submitted by three firms, the project was awarded to the design-build team of Archer Western Contractors and bridge designer HNTB. While the Archer Western bid was the highest of the four firms competing, they received the highest score at the completion of the best value award determination process with a schedule approximately five months shorter than the other three teams. NHDOT estimated that every additional day without a third bridge would cost the two states $25,000.
Archer Western started working on the replacement project in December 2011, and planned for the new bridge to open in summer 2013. Demolition of the old bridge began in January 2012.
For the bridge designers at HNTB, one of the initial challenges was meeting the public’s high expectations for the project. Consequently, they decided to make the new bridge a “skyline replica” of the original.
“The new bridge had to look like an old truss bridge, but be a modified truss without the corrosion prone details,” said James Fisher of HNTB ,who served as design manager on the project. The final design by HNTB’s Theodore Zoli mimics the old design with a three-span through truss configuration with flanking span supported towers and a modified plate girder construction.
To the untrained eye, the bridge does look as if it has been around for decades, but there are many innovations in the details. Fisher noted one major innovation came when the team decided to strengthen and “recycle” the old bridge’s four piers, greatly reducing the environmental impact of the construction. Crews used the old granite facing on the piers as coffer dams, drilling down into the piers and placing more than a dozen 500-ton capacity battered micropiles in each pier. The reinforced piers form the primary support for the new steel bridge structure.
The completed bridge features two 11-foot travel lanes, two five-foot bicycle lanes and is flanked by two six-foot sidewalks. Over the decades, the bridge had become something of a tourism hot spot, so the design team added pedestrian overlooks outside of the trusses that offer unobstructed views of the Piscataqua River, Kittery and Portsmouth.
Fisher noted that while the new bridge design visually pays homage to John Alexander Low Waddell’s 1920s steel truss design, the modern bridge addresses one of the major shortcomings of traditional steel truss designs – the use of gusset plate connections that are susceptible to corrosion and difficult to replace. Instead, the bridge features modified plate girders and incorporates cold bent steel flanges. The steel was dipped in zinc during the fabrication process to deter corrosion.
Power of infrastructure
The power of public infrastructure to unite and strengthen communities was apparent at the opening ceremonies where residents of Kittery and Portsmouth came out in force to be among the first to walk, bike and drive across the new bridge.
In the end, it is the fact that people can experience the bridge and the river outside of their automobiles that makes the new Memorial Bridge so memorable.
Kittery-based writer-photographer Bill Moore credits the bridge’s appeal to the tangible presence it has in the lives of local residents. Many citizens don’t just drive across it, they walk and ride bikes across the bridge on a daily basis.
“It takes us smack into the heart of Portsmouth,” said Moore, who wrote about and photographed the project extensively during construction. “It’s big and important, and you can walk across and bike across.”
Moore already is looking forward to work beginning on the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge, and plans to cover its construction in words and photos for the Portsmouth Herald’s Bridge Watch column.
FMI: For info on the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge project, visit www.maine.gov/mdot/sml/.
Voters say ‘YES’ to $100 million transportation bond
72% approval affirms Maine voters support for transportation
Maine voters approved Question 3, the $100 million transportation bond, by 72 percent, the largest such margin since 2007. A compromise between Maine’s legislative Democrats and Republican Governor Paul LePage, the bond is expected to bring an additional $150 million in federal and other matching funds, to be used for long needed road, bridge and port reconstruction and rehabilitation. The plan would apply $76 million towards roads, $27 million for bridges and $24 million for ports, rails and planes. And $5 million will help fund the Maine Department of Transportation’s Municipal Partnership Initiative.
The bond was one of five bonds put on the statewide ballot by the Maine Legislature during a special session late this summer, and it enjoyed strong support from Maine Governor Paul LePage and legislators on both sides of the aisle, even some who have traditionally opposed public borrowing.
“The bottom line is this work has to be done. Our roads cannot be neglected,” Representative Ken Fredette (R-Newport), told Land Line magazine. “However, in the long term, we must break the cycle of borrowing to pay for the most fundamental obligations of state government.”
Officials with the Maine Department of Transportation said, even with the bond, the agency’s core highway and bridge programs still face a funding shortfall of about $110 million a year.
“Maine has more highway miles than any other state in New England, but we have the lowest level of funding per mile. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, 33 percent of our roads are in poor or mediocre condition, and one-third of our bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete,” wrote Transportation Committee Chair Ken Theriault (D-Madwaska) and fellow committee member Representative Archie Verow (D-Brewer) in an opinion piece for the Bangor Daily News.
MBTA threw its efforts behind bond passage, rounding up support for the YES on Question 3 Coalition and participating in Portland and Hampden press conferences with AGC Maine and The Road Information Program (TRIP) in the days leading up to the election. At the press conferences, TRIP released a report that identified and ranked Maine’s top 50 transportation challenges. Those transportation challenges include 12 sections of major roads or highways that need significant repairs or reconstruction; 19 major bridges in the state that have significant deficiencies and need to be rebuilt or reconstructed; one improvement to a maritime facility; and 18 sections of the state’s transportation system that need improvements to address multiple challenges by improving safety, increasing access or improving road or bridge conditions.
The bond includes funding for several of those projects, including funding for improvements to the International Marine Terminal in Portland, a project MaineDOT’s Deputy Commissioner Bruce Van Note has called “transformative.”
“There was a strong feeling this year that Maine needed these investments, to fix our roads and to fix our economy,” said MBTA President Tom Gorrill. “MaineDOT was counting on this bond to keep its work plan on track, and frankly, it is a relief for everyone in the industry that it passed.”
Voters went to the polls on Tuesday, November 5 and ultimately approved all five bonds on the statewide ballot, including borrowing for Maine Maritime Academy, repairs to Maine armories, the state community college system and the University of Maine system.
Vote YES on #3 Coalition
Action Committee of 50
American Council of Engineering Companies
Bicycle Coalition of Maine
Buxton Communications LLC
CLD Consulting Engineers, LTD.
Eastport Port Authority
Eaton Peabody Consulting Group
Maine Automobile Dealers Association
Maine Better Transportation Association
Maine Chapter, American Public Works Association
Maine Innkeepers Association
Maine Section American Society of Civil Engineers
Maine State Chamber of Commerce
Maine Transit Association
National Association of Women in Construction, Maine Chapter
A theory of transportation evolution
Conference keynote speaker Cynthia Burbank says the time to evolve is now
There is more than a little urgency in Cynthia Burbank’s voice when you ask her about her thoughts on the evolution of transportation. That is because she is looking down the road into the future, and right now, that road is foggy at best.
“I am very concerned about the trends and conditions of transportation in this country as a whole,” said Burbank, a vice president at Parsons Brinckerhoff and former Federal Highway Administration associate administrator with 32 years experience working for FHWA and U.S. DOT. Burbank cites a myriad of forces that are working against the status quo of the U.S. transportation system. She is slated to give the keynote address at the Maine Transportation Conference, Thursday, December 5 in Augusta.
Some of those conditions Burbank defines as “forces from within” – aging infrastructure, changing demographics and the decline in federal revenues.
Others are “forces from without” – strained state and local revenue streams and an aging workforce. And, of course, there is the biggest force of all, the public’s general lack of concern.
“Transportation is just not in the top tier of public concern, it’s lodged somewhere in the public mind behind the economy, the condition of our education system and health care,” said Burbank. She noted that fighting all of those forces at once will take an enormous effort to build and maintain the transportation system of the future, but it must be done.
“It’s why transportation has to change and there is no easy solution.”
Burbank expects that the solutions will come from a variety of sources. Primarily, state and federal transportation officials will need to become better and more efficient in how they deliver transportation to the public and embrace evolving ideas such as “smart growth” and “complete streets.”
“And we need to reform our system of funding transportation. We need to diversify our revenue portfolio with things like user-based fees, public-private partnerships and tolls where there is sufficient traffic to justify them,” she said. “We’ve been too reliant on the gas tax, and while I don’t think it will be going away, it isn’t enough any more.”
Burbank also believes there are some untraditional approaches that should be explored as we grapple with the future of transportation, particularly with a dearth of affordable transportation options for an aging population. Burbank grew up in Vermont and has a noticeable soft spot for states like Maine with great rural expanses and the challenge of meeting transportation needs of a rural population. She said that for much of Maine and Vermont, typical solutions like transit – rail or bus – don’t make sense. But a ridesharing network connected by a rideshare app could make sense. (In the interest of full disclosure, Burbank noted that she is a vice president of an international non-profit organization with the goal of expanding the use of ridesharing to 20 percent of all commuter travel.)
“I grew up in northern Vermont and there are many similarities between my home state and Maine. I worry about the sustainability of transportation in rural areas, especially for aging residents because transit doesn’t work very well in rural settings. There’s not the critical mass. But integrating ridesharing as a feeder to transit systems, that could be effective.”
Ultimately, Burbank believes that technology will be key to a brighter future, helping states keep bridges inspected and roads clear of snow and ice more efficiently.
She also mentioned work her firm has been involved with using technology to collect and analyze winter weather data and help DOTs reduce their reliance on chemical deicing and other labor saving devices that can help states do more with less.
“There are sensors you can build into a bridge that can give you a better snapshot of the stresses on a bridge than a traditional visual inspection,” said Burbank. “Technology can help us be more efficient and identify maintenance issues. That’s something we will need in our efficiency tool kit.”
Still she is quick to note that no matter how much evolves in the field, one thing is sure to remain the same. “After 35 years working in transportation, I don’t see roads going away. Roads and bridges, they are the backbone of our transportation system and that is not going to change.”
Getting down to business
MBTA members and friends gather to learn, show support for infrastructure and scholarships and have fun at the organization’s annual Fall Convention
This was the second year in a row that MBTA members, family and friends gathered in Portland for the organization’s annual convention, September 27 through 29 at the Portland Marriott in South Portland. And just as at any MBTA event, and as could be expected, there was plenty of talk about transportation – from the challenges of building bridges in high traffic urban corridors to the upcoming transportation bond referendum (Question 3) slated for the November 5 statewide election.
The convention began on a hardworking note with a slide show presentation at the Portland Marriott followed by a site walk of the Martin’s Point Bridge that straddles the Presumpscot River and crosses the border between Portland and Falmouth. The session was led by CPM Constructors’ Peter Krakoff who told the story of the “widest two-lane bridge in Maine” – from the bid process and public input phase to the pouring of the concrete piles and deck. He offered a true insider’s view of what is currently Maine’s largest design-build transportation project. More than 40 MBTAers were rewarded for their participation with two PDHs (credits for professional development hours), as well as a chance to witness crews pouring concrete for one of the bridge’s 10 spans.
The convention shifted into high gear later that evening with the grand opening reception, sponsored by Chadwick-BaRoss in the Marriott’s Casco Bay Ball Room. That was also the kick-off for the annual MBTA Silent Auction to raise money for the MBTA Infrastructure Development Fund. This was the first year in many that the MBTA board decided to forego the companion live auction. Still, bidding was lively the first night of the convention – and the next – and, in the end, members raised more than $7,000. The fund was established in 1997 to support the organization’s efforts to raise public awareness of and support for transportation infrastructure investments throughout the state.
A lobster and barbecue chicken feast followed, as well as a presentation by MaineDOT Commissioner David Bernhardt on the upcoming transportation bond referendum, and what MaineDOT will be able to achieve with the $100 million in transportation funding, if voters approve the bond.
But first, Commissioner Bernhardt took time to stop and smell the roses – reflecting on what turned out to be a successful first session of the 126th Maine Legislature.
“I’ve got to tell you, that in the end, a lot of good things happened this past session,” said Bernhardt. He was talking about bonds – a $50 million GARVEE bond (grant anticipation revenue vehicle) approved by the legislature this spring, as well as the $100 million transportation bond that went to voters this fall. He explained how the department hopes to use the bond – to make vital investments in roads, bridges and several multimodal projects. He also discussed challenges on MaineDOT’s horizon, notably the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge in Kittery, a $170 million project that is deemed critical because of its strategic location in the corridor connecting Maine with New Hampshire and states to the south. The two states are now working to come up with additional funding for the bridge, after word came down that the project would not receive any funding in the recent round of federal TIGER grants (transportation investment generating economic recovery).
For his part, Bernhardt spoke confidently about Maine’s ability to supply its share of the matching funds for the bridge – thanks in large part to the $50 million GARVEE MaineDOT now has at its disposal.
The Fall Convention wasn’t all about business, either, and conventioneers found time for fun as well. A hardy group woke early to hit the links at the Sable Oaks Golf Club for the convention golf tournament.
The two-part cribbage tournament kicked off mid-afternoon with high-powered opening play between MBTA President Tom Gorrill and tournament director Conrad Welzel. Cribbage play continued into the evening aboard the Bay Mist. Tournament participants were cheered on by more 70 conventioneers who had boarded the vessel for the Casco Bay cruise on what turned out to be a picture-perfect autumn afternoon.
Later that night, MBTAers gathered at the Saturday banquet for a final chance to bid on silent auction items and enjoy a performance by Boston comedian Jimmy Dunn.
As with every convention, planning for the 2013 event started early and was critical to the event’s success, as were generous sponsorships of MBTA members. Special thanks to all of the Convention sponsors and the Convention Committee for their hard work. Everyone had a great time!
MBTA 2013 Fall Convention
- First Place Foursome: Mark Curtis, Gary LaPierre, Bill Harvey, Shawn Frank
- Top Mixed Foursome: Russ Bragg, Doug Moore, Lauren Corey, Brian Callahan
- Closest to the Pin: Gary LaPierre
- Longest Drive: Gary LaPierre
Nametag / Survey Raffle
- $100 L.L. Bean gift card: Krystal Morrison
- First Place: Kevin Brayley/Leah Grabarz
- Second Place: Tom Brayley/Tom Biegel
- Third Place: Jacob Adams/Kristine Biegel
2013 Convention Raffle Winners
- $300 L.L. Bean gift card: Jim Letteney
- $200 L.L. Bean gift card: Janice Cote
- $100 L.L. Bean gift card: C.A. Newcomb & Sons
2013 Convention Committee
- Chair – Jim Hanley, Pike Industries
- Tom Biegel, Shaw Brothers Construction
- Tim Folster, Sargent Corp.
- Tom Gorrill, Gorrill Palmer Consultling Engineers
- John Harbottle, The Rowley Agency
- Doug Hermann, Wyman & Simpson, Inc.
- Larry Hutchins, Bitumar USA, Inc.
- Tom Martin, NITRAM Excavation & General Contractors, Inc.
- Larry Roberts, The Louis Berger Group
- Stuart Welch, Chadwick-BaRoss, Inc.
- Conrad Welzel, Maine Turnpike Authority
- Holly Williams, ETTI
2013 Event Chairs
- Golf: Larry Hutchins, Bitumar USA, Inc.
- Cribbage: Conrad Welzel, Maine Turnpike Authority
Grand Opening Reception Sponsor
Events & Recreation Sponsors
Anderson Equipment Company
Pike Industries, Inc.
Central Maine Auction Center
Haley & Aldrich, Inc.
A. D. Electric, Inc.
All States Materials Group
GZA GeoEnvironmental, Inc.
A. H. Harris & Sons, Inc.
Shaw Brothers Construction, Inc.
H. O. Bouchard, Inc.
F. R. Carroll, Inc.
Ciment Quebec, Inc.
John T. Cyr & Sons, Inc.
Down East Emulsions, LLC
EJ USA, Inc.
Gorham Sand & Gravel, Inc.
Hews Company LLC
Jordan Equipment Co.
Maine Drilling & Blasting, Inc.
NITRAM Excavation & GC
Portland International Jetport
Pratt & Sons, Inc.
Everett J. Prescott, Inc.
Sebago Technics, Inc.
Skillings-Shaw & Associates
Wellman Paving, Inc.
The 'watching place'
Paving roads and planning for change in Skowhegan
It’s an unseasonably warm fall day, and the Skowhegan Highway Department is making good use of the favorable weather. Inside the department’s headquarters at the end of Greenwood Avenue, mechanics are going over the department’s fleet, getting it ready for winter. Outside two two-man crews work their way up and down the grid of town streets picking up leaves. The phone rings, and it is a resident wanting to know when a crew will be by to pick up leaves on her street.
Without consulting a schedule or a map, Skowhegan Highway Commissioner Greg Dore asks what street she lives on, pauses for a second to make a mental calculation, and lets her know that a crew will be by the following Tuesday. Then he turns back to the discussion at hand – how will Skowhegan and Maine be able to continue to afford to maintain and improve roads and bridges if funding from the federal and state gas taxes remain stagnant? That is a question, at least on the local level, he admits to not having a straight answer for.
“The people don’t care how you pay for it, they just want for their roads to be fixed. So when we have a road that needs work, I look at it and say ‘How am I going to get it done?’” said Dore. Getting it done these days, according to Dore, can mean piecing together funding for a local work plan from a variety of sources, including local funding and various grant programs administered by MaineDOT.
Case in point are two major town road reconstruction projects: Dr. Mann Road and Malbon Mills Road. The city is putting up half the funding – approximately $150,000 – and getting the other half through MaineDOT’s Municipal Partnership Initiative (MPI), a matching grant program developed by MaineDOT two years ago.
Dore notes the program is similar to a funding program for minor collectors proposed several years ago in the MaineDOT Highway Simplification Study. Dore, a former president of the MBTA, was part of the working group that provided input for the study, and he is pleased the issues raised and ideas generated as part of the study may have contributed to MaineDOT developing the MPI. And he is gratified that his town has been able to benefit from the program, as well. Work is slated to begin on the two projects next summer.
Dore, an engineer by training, has headed the department for the past 21 years. He is one of the few remaining elected highway commissioners in Maine (he was re-elected for his sixth term in November 2012) and admits it can be a challenge to keep politics out of daily department business. He said the biggest difficulty the department faces is budgetary. Since he was first elected, he has watched the cost of road maintenance skyrocket.
“A dump truck used to cost $50,000, now it’s $200,000 and materials costs have quadrupled,” said Dore. “Hot top used be $19 a ton, now it’s $82.”
Dore presides over a department staff of eight and an annual operating budget of $1.25 million budget with an additional $300,000-$400,000 for paving. He said he could easily spend twice that to maintain the city’s 94 lane miles of roads. The town is able to stretch maintenance dollars because it gets help from MaineDOT for plowing. Skowhegan performs winter maintenance on 20 miles of state highways that run through town in exchange for about $140,000 in state funding.
“We supply the labor and machinery and MaineDOT provides the funding,” said Dore.
Between one-third and almost half of his annual budget is taken up with paving – the city on average spends between $400,000 and $500,000 every year to pave its roads. Dore said that is not nearly enough, and every year the town has to make choices about what it can and cannot afford to do. That, in the end, he said costs the town more in the long run.
“Work we put off this year, will just cost more next year,” said Dore. “We have some roads we haven’t touched in 20 years and that is just too long.”
Occasionally the city will issue a bond to undertake additional roadwork, but the town never really catches up. “Oh, we go in cycles and every once in a while we’ll decide to borrow a couple million and get some roads fixed, but it’s not enough,” said Dore.
He predicts it will be a while before the town bonds more roadwork, because it is currently completing a major $11 million storm water/sewer separation project that was funded through a municipal bond issue.
An eye to history
Skowhegan seems much bigger than its 2010 U.S. Census count (pop. 8,589) and that, in large part, is due to its unique geography. The town was founded in 1773 as part of Canaan at a bend in the Kennebec River, a place the local tribe of Abenaki called “Skowhegan” or “the watching place” because its banks were a prime spot for watching and catching fish.
During the early 20th century, Skowhegan became a manufacturing hub, home to a hydro-powered paper mill, sawmill, woolen mill, two flour mills, a wood pulp mill, three wood planing mills, as well as other industries. Today, the town continues to be a regional service center and manufacturing hub and is home to athletic shoemaker New Balance, Sappi Fine Paper and Redington Fairview Hospital.
It also has been a political powerhouse, giving rise to one Maine governor, five U.S. Congressmen and one U.S. Senator – perhaps the city’s most famous resident – Margaret Chase Smith. Skowhegan was also the setting for the film adaptation of Richard Russo’s novel, Empire Falls.
Skowhegan serves as regional transportation hub, as well. Four highways meet in the center of town – Routes 201, 2, 104 and 150 – and for all the talk of roads, bridges are also centrally important to the town.
Perhaps Skowhegan’s most famous bridge is the Swinging Bridge, a suspension footbridge first built in 1883 as a farmer’s shortcut to town. Connecting Alder Street and Skowhegan Island, the bridge has suffered through floods, fire and the wear and tear of time and weather to be rebuilt several times since. Most recently it was rebuilt in 2006 by the town’s Highway Department, a feat that earned the department a 2007 American Public Works Association Public Works Excellence Award.
An historic bottleneck
When Dore talks about Skowhegan’s pressing transportation concerns, he puts the downtown bottleneck at the top of the list.
The congestion is caused by a network of feeder roads funneling traffic in one central location – Skowhegan’s historic Main and Water streets that cross the river not once, but twice in less than half a mile. Since the late 1990s, the town has worked with MaineDOT to find a solution to that bottleneck. MaineDOT studied the issue and in 1998 recommended building a bypass to help alleviate downtown traffic. In 2004, local residents voted 2-to-1 in support of a “second bridge,” but opposed moving it away from the town center. Dore said the discussion of building a “second bridge” has been raised again in recent years as the town seeks to relieve traffic and open up the downtown to new business.
One of the new business ideas is to establish Run of River, a water theme park running through the center of town. Routing vehicle traffic away from the area would be important to that venture. Dore said finding an acceptable location for the new bridge that will meet local and state approval and securing funding for the project are two major challenges.
Still, advocates for the new bridge – and the water park – are not daunted. The town has set aside $1.5 million to fund construction needed for the park. Dore, who is also chairman of the town recreation committee that is spearheading the park, was at the time of the Maine Trails interview just days away from submitting paperwork needed to fulfill one of the final requirements for approval by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
To ease traffic and improve mobility, the town also has worked with MaineDOT on the start up of the Somerset Explorer, a bus service connecting Skowhegan, Madison, Anson and Norridgewock.
Eye on the future
The two projects – Run of River and finding a way to mitigate downtown traffic – are at the top of Dore’s to-do list for the near future. He worries that if a second bridge is off the table for now, the city will have to find another way to relieve traffic pressures on its downtown. Dore believes there are other solutions worth exploring, and lately has been thinking a lot about rotaries. He has researched the issue with MaineDOT and thinks it could help regulate the flow of traffic. “We need to alleviate congestion downtown, and a rotary could help with that,” said Dore.
Dore’s constant reach for innovation and eye on what is coming down the road – whether it is snow in the forecast or a change in state funding – he admitted, is a habit formed after years on the job and an appreciation for what voters in his town expect from its highway department. “People aren’t looking for savings, they are looking for service,” said Dore.
Overhauling hot mix asphalt
Joyce Taylor, P.E., MaineDOT Chief Engineer
The old MaineDOT adage that if you ask three pavement experts the same question you’ll get three different answers has certainly been in full force within the past five or so years. It all started with what appeared to be a moisture related, or stripping, problem in The County. MaineDOT pavements were meeting specifications, but the surfaces of new pavements were losing material. The initial fix was to incorporate an anti-stripping additive into the hot mix asphalt (HMA) mix. However, we soon discovered that this wasn’t solving the problem and the issue was more widespread than simply up north. There were many theories as to the cause: excessive dust or fines in the mix and aggregate degradation; perhaps poor quality RAP (recycled asphalt pavement) being used; the liquid asphalt isn’t as sticky as it used to be; or maybe the increased use of studded tires is at fault.
To address these issues, MaineDOT decided to take a more programmatic and pragmatic approach to improving our pavements. After all, if you consider all of our investments, pavements are the single most costly item. MaineDOT’s approach has been to work with the Maine paving industry, academia, the Federal Highway Administration and our colleagues from other state departments of transportation to identify the cause of this premature distress and to correct it.
Aggregate durability study
A significant aggregate durability study was undertaken by our pavement quality staff. We currently use the Micro-Deval test to determine aggregate quality characteristics on the combined aggregate gradation, not on individual aggregate sources. Aggregate blends are required to have a maximum Micro-Deval loss value of 18 percent for use in mix designs. This study was conducted to evaluate the performance of individual aggregate stockpiles in durability testing to determine whether aggregate quality should be a concern.
More than 100 coarse and fine aggregates sources were tested and analyzed with the Micro-Deval and L.A. Abrasion methods. The results suggested that individual aggregate sources vary significantly across the state and sources should be tested for mix design acceptance individually. Further work is being completed to develop a correlation between Micro-Deval values and actual pavement performance on Maine projects. I am extremely proud to say that our staff presented and published a paper at the Transportation Research Board 2013 meeting which shows the significance and credibility of the work completed.
Meetings with paving contractors
In 2011, MaineDOT staff and paving industry staff met to talk about our concerns and gain insights into ways that these could be addressed. Information was shared with contractors outlining the projects in which the distress was observed for each contractor. Industry experts shared items that they felt were contributing to the distress. Also, separate meetings were held with individual contractors to discuss potential factors leading to the evidence of the distress in some of their paving projects. These meetings provided invaluable information and helped point us in the right directions.
Tri-state: Pavement peer exchange
In the summer of 2011, MaineDOT hosted a tri-state pavement peer exchange with New Hampshire DOT and the Vermont Agency of Transportation. Participants spent three days discussing specifications and testing requirements, visiting contractors’ pavement plants and examining pavements in the field.
The key conclusions were: 1) there is likely too much dust or “fines” in our mixes (both New Hampshire and Vermont specify lower fine content in their mixes); 2) liquid asphalt quality has decreased in recent years; and 3) aggregate quality testing should be done on the sources and not just the composite blend (both New Hampshire and Vermont test aggregate quality on the sources). Our colleagues did agree that we had an early pavement distress problem and acknowledged that they were not observing this type of distress in their states.
Research: New test methods investigated
Meanwhile, MaineDOT engaged the Worcester Polytechnic Institute to test mix and liquid asphalts samples in order to gain a better understanding of the cause of our premature pavement distresses.
The traditional AASHTO test method for moisture susceptibility didn’t seem to match the performance observed on Maine roads, so a new method using the Moisture Induced Stress Tester (MIST) for conditioning samples was examined.
The MIST results have shown great potential for identifying good performing mix designs and work continues to develop acceptable criteria. In addition, MaineDOT has recently acquired a Hamburg Wheel Tracking Device and has begun to test mix designs using this well-established and approved AASHTO performance test.
Conclusions and changes we’ve made
Based on the aggregate quality study and observations from our peer states, we have revised our specifications to lower the acceptable amount of fines in our mixes. We now conduct aggregate quality testing on the individual aggregates, not just the composite gradation. We have also noticed that using modified binders seems to provide a more durable pavement, and we will be considering their usage on more projects, especially those with higher traffic volumes.
Our work with the MIST test is continuing with more mix samples being conditioned and evaluated. In fact, this work was recently recognized by AASHTO as one of the top research projects in 2013. Finally, a major effort to test mixes with the Hamburg Wheel Tracking Device is underway this fall. The goal of this work is to adopt the HWTD as a tool to screen our pavements during the mix design process.
It is too soon to determine the overall impact of changes that have been made, although there is agreement that the premature distresses have been reduced.
With the continued outstanding effort of our staff, cooperation from the paving industry, and improved materials and test methods, I am certain we will solve the problem.