A few things we’ve learned on the road with the Fix It Now! campaign
By Jim Hanley, MBTA President
This past summer, the MBTA was on the road quite a bit. That’s not at all unusual. This group tends to cover a lot of territory, something to be expected because we are about transportation after all. But this summer, there was a unifying purpose to our travels. This was the beginning of an outreach effort to bring our message about the critical need to invest in our transportation infrastructure – the message at the core of the Fix It Now! campaign – on the road.
Here are a few things we have learned so far:
Maine has a lot of roads and bridges that are in need of repair. We saw evidence of that everywhere we went. The journey began in May in Blue Hill with a meeting called by Maine Senator Brian Langley (R-Hancock County), and coordinated by several towns in his district. Many in his constituency are concerned about the deteriorating condition of Route 15 between Blue Hill and Stonington (that road, in fact, was named winner of the MBTA’s 2014 Worst Road in Maine Contest in June).
All told, more than 15 percent of the state’s F-rated priority 3 roads and almost 8 percent of Maine’s D-rated priority 1 and 2 roads are in Hancock County. In Washington and Aroostook counties, where MBTA also launched its Fix It Now! campaign, the problem of poor road condition and safety is prevalent. In Washington County, there are 161 miles of state highways rated D or F for safety or poor pavement conditions.* In Aroostook County, the problem is approaching epidemic proportions: 378 miles of priority 1, 2 and 3 miles are rated D or F. (You can read about the Presque Isle meeting and MBTA’s Fix It Now! findings on pages 27 and 29 of this magazine).
While the research that John Melrose - through Eaton Peabody Consulting - has done for the Fix It Now! campaign has given us a good statistical snapshot of the scope of the problem, the stories we have heard from Maine drivers are just as compelling. In Blue Hill and through the MBTA’s Worst Road in Maine contest, we have heard people compare driving in Maine to driving in the Third World, and describe the challenges of negotiating pothole-strewn roads that resemble the surface of the moon. We’ve learned that people are getting fed up with paying hundreds of dollars, sometimes over a thousand dollars, to repair popped tires, bent rims and alignments due to rough roads.
Maine drivers worry about safety.
Between bridge postings that can delay emergency response vehicles and higher accident rates on unimproved rural roads, Mainers’ worries about their driving safety are well founded. In our recent travels and outreach, we have heard about roads that have caused physical pain (there was one compelling story about a woman with kidney stones and an ambulance ride to the hospital). We have heard about potholes making cargo fly around the inside of a car. We have also listened to some heartbreaking stories about accidents that have happened on rough roads.
This is just the beginning of our journey.
Possibly the biggest lesson we’ve learned is that bringing people together and building a coalition is going to take time. We’ve reached out to officials and residents in just three of Maine’s 16 counties and gotten some great feedback and buy-in for the work we are doing. But we have much more to do. In the coming months, we hope to bring the Fix It Now! message to every region in Maine, and we need your help. So stay tuned and start thinking about how you can help: making connections with local officials, helping to put together a local presentation and by helping to fund Fix It Now! research and an interactive web site that our board of directors is currently putting together. If you can help us, please let Maria Fuentes know (207-622-0526 or Maria@MBTAonline.org).
Finally, I would like to thank all of you who have been so supportive of MBTA’s outreach efforts for Fix It Now! and other efforts. When you attend or sponsor MBTA events – our “issues” meetings around the state, as well as convention and golf tournaments – and most recently the Maine Transportation Achievement Awards – you help us get the word out about the importance of investing in a safe, efficient transportation system for Maine. Thanks so much for your generosity and support. As always, it is a great pleasure to work alongside such a dedicated group of community and business leaders.
*PLEASE NOTE: A road section may be rated “D” or “F” for one or more rating factors. Therefore, a section may be counted more than once.