Another day, another transportation challenge
By Thomas Gorrill, MBTA President
I am writing this in the first days of 2014, and as often happens at this time of year, I find myself wondering how we got here so quickly. That answer is easy to find when I look back at the past year.
Two-thousand-and-thirteen went by quickly, and this usually is the case when you are busy and, as they say, having fun. As an organization, Maine Better Transportation Association was very busy. If you are wondering where the year went, here’s where it went from a transportation point of view.
Probably the most notable event had to do with Question 3, the Transportation Bond. The first part of MBTA’s year was spent working with Governor LePage’s staff and the Maine Legislature to urge them to agree on a bond to send to voters. This wasn’t a hard sell. Both the governor and the legislature understood that, after going without a bond for two years, Maine really needed one. In fact, even before an agreement was reached, MaineDOT included $100 million bond to help pay for its current work plan. The problem was when the bond got caught up in other funding discussions in Augusta.
In the end, it all worked out and the legislature held a last-minute special session to send a bond to voters in November. Their Hail Mary passage of the bond didn’t give us much time to rally our forces, but in the end, MBTA members and staff redoubled their efforts working toward voter passage of the bond. We were successful, with the bond passing with a 72 percent YES vote – the largest margin of any bond on the ballot.
MBTA members and staff also worked in support of other transportation funding measures passed in 2013. While legislators once again put off addressing Maine’s long-term transportation funding needs, including meaningful discussion of a replacement for dwindling gas tax revenues, they did approve a $50 million GARVEE bond that will give MaineDOT the funding it needs to address one significant short-term need – the replacement of the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge.
Also, the governor and the legislature passed a measure re-defining Highway and General Fund allocations to the Maine State Police. This is an issue MBTA has worked on for quite a few years, and it was gratifying to see those efforts come to fruition. This funding shift wouldn’t have happened without the leadership of Governor LePage, who put it in both the Highway Fund and General Fund budgets, along with members of the Appropriations and Transportation Committees, who made sure it stayed in prior to final votes. Most importantly, this means that MaineDOT will have an additional $15 million to work with over the next two years.
As an organization, we continued to see solid support from our members at events. This year’s Infrastructure Golf Classic sold out. Attendance was strong at our annual meeting, as well as our regional forums in Cumberland Eastport, Presque Isle and Fall Convention. We also had a strong turnout for the Maine Transportation Conference, an event we co-sponsor every year with MaineDOT and the Maine Section ASCE, and the MBTA Holiday Meeting.
As we do every year, we supported scholarships. In 2013, we awarded scholarships to 15 students, all of them smart, young, energetic and talented individuals who are on the cusp of their careers. We know these rising stars will help drive transportation innovation in the decades to come, and, as they do year after year, they help us keep the faith as we go forward.
This past year we began to give shape to Fix It Now!, our new grassroots campaign designed to change how Mainers and their leaders view transportation infrastructure and its maintenance in a more focused, productive and beneficial way for everybody involved.
We also grew our organization. The MBTA Membership Committee did an outstanding job, recruiting 34 new corporate members, along with another 25 individual, association and municipal members. I would like to offer my thanks to John Sturgeon for his commitment, dedication and perseverance. His leadership of the Membership Committee was stellar, and I thank each and every member of that committee for their efforts. What a great job you all did.
So that’s why 2013 went so quickly. And there is every indication 2014 will be just as busy and successful.
This year, we plan to launch the first public phases of the Fix It Now! campaign. We also will work on a new strategic plan for the organization. And of course, we will continue our mission promoting investments in safe, efficient transportation for Maine and to raise money for the MBTA Infrastructure Development Fund and transportation scholarships.
So, please accept my thanks for a great 2013 and all the hard work and invaluable support you gave this organization. I also offer my wishes for a happy and prosperous New Year for you and your families. I look forward to working with you in 2014!