75 and counting
This year, the Maine Better Transportation turns 75. We came into being in 1939. And here it is, 2014. Back then we were coming out of the Great Depression. And here we are, coming out of the Great Recession.
Back then, the state’s roads and bridges had fallen into dangerous disrepair through poor maintenance and neglect. Members of the newly formed group – community and business leaders who recognized transportation investments as an excellent way to build the state economy – were concerned about how Maine was going to finance its rebuilding. They knew Maine needed a modern and reliable highway system, so we could get around and stay connected with the rest of the country.
Sometimes it seems like the more things change, the more they stay the same. Because here we are still battling away. But, the fact is, much has changed. And for the good.
Prior to 1939, the Maine State Highway Commission was a woefully small and underfunded arm of state government, incapable of doing what was needed to move the economy forward. Today, the Maine Department of Transportation oversees a vast network of roads, bridge, aviation, rail and marine infrastructure that truly connects our communities.
The Maine Good Roads Association, as MBTA originally was named, was chartered on September 25, 1939. From the start, the organization’s mission was to advocate for public funding of state infrastructure – primarily for roads and bridges to accommodate the public’s growing love of automobile travel (the vintage postcard, above, shows Augusta’s Water Street full of automobiles in the late 1930s).
The early order of business was to push the Maine Legislature for an amendment dedicating Highway Fund revenue solely for highway purposes. That was a hard-fought battle at a time when the state was struggling to recover from the Depression. The amendment finally passed in 1944, and the association never looked back. Soon after, the association got behind the formation of the Maine Turnpike Authority in order to bring about a modern highway linking Maine with New Hampshire, Boston and, eventually, the Maritimes. We were on a roll.
Today, we advocate for all forms of transportation—rail, marine, transit and aviation. In another 75 years, maybe we’ll be advocating for space travel, as well.