This summer, the MBTA board of directors made an important decision. We voted unanimously to step up the organization’s long-time involvement in the battle for transportation infrastructure funding. This wasn’t a sudden decision. We have been grappling with this issue for years. But with a new five-year strategic plan under our belts and the recent devastating session at the Maine Legislature still fresh in our minds, it was clear, as leaders of our industry and our communities, this was a fight we need to take on.
We know the problem. We have the strategy. Now we need the right weapons to wage this fight. In late June, the board voted to work with Maine Tomorrow to sharpen the “weapons” we will need. This summer, John Melrose and his staff have been working with the MBTA executive committee to develop those weapons. One of the first steps was to gather all of the existing data on the condition of Maine’s highways and bridges — the numbers that back up what we see every day on the job. They offer a bleak picture that is getting darker by the day.
One in every four miles of state roads has “poor” pavement quality — and it’s getting worse every day. As we all know, pavement quality directly affects the entire structure of a road. The longer it is allowed to deteriorate, the more expensive it is to fix. By cutting back on paving and reducing paving surface overlays to ¾”, Maine has been able to stretch its shrinking maintenance dollars this year. But in the long run, these measures will only contribute to the growing backlog of roads that need to be fixed.
10 percent of all Maine roads — its arterials — carry 62 percent of all Maine’s traffic. Investment in these roads is imperative for the safety of our citizens and the future of our economy. Currently there are 168 miles of Maine arterials in critical condition and another 248 in poor condition. At the current rate, it will take decades to address this backlog.
Maine is facing a bridge crisis and the longer we wait, the more it’s going to cost us. At best, a bridge can last between 70 to 80 years, and Maine has an alarming number of bridges that are approaching that critical age. The number of Maine bridges 80 years or older will at least double in 10 years, triple in 20 years and quadruple in 30 years. Case in point is the Waldo-Hancock Bridge, the subject of this issue’s cover story. The bridge was 72 years old when its engineers found extensive damage in its cables. The subsequent scramble to temporarily repair and replace the span placed an immense strain on MaineDOT’s resources — financial and otherwise.
Maine’s interstate is 50 years old and needs modernizing. These highways are the workhorses of our economy, with some sections carrying up to 84,000 vehicles a day. And Maine doesn’t have nearly enough funding lined up to address even the most basic needs for these highways in Bangor, Brunswick, Gardiner, Portland and South Portland. With all this work ahead of us, we have done little to address the funding needed to upgrade our interstate. For example, MaineDOT secured only $15 million for the modernization of I-295 in Portland during the last round of federal appropriations. That section of highway alone will require between $160 million and $200 million to bring it up to modern safety standards and meet anticipated capacity demands.
We need to invest now to keep Maine’s economy growing. Strategic investment in our highway infrastructure now will help keep our people employed and our products competitive. Some of the key projects that need our funding now include: the East–West Highway, Aroostook North-South Highway; I-395 extension; Gorham bypass; Wiscasset bypass; and the Lewiston-Auburn I-95 Downtown Connector.
As the legislative session this past spring demonstrated, winning support for new transportation funding could be a long and grinding fight. This is not about one party’s agenda versus another. Both Democats and Republicans rely equally on our highways. It’s about the infrastructure — and investing in our safety and economic future. Too much hangs in the balance for our state if we do not launch transportation funding reform now.
As we move forward on the campaign, we will be asking for your help. We need you to help as we do more outreach to candidates and legislators, and we need you to help generate awareness about this critical issue. We also will be asking many of you to help with raising the funds necessary to fund the campaign. The stakes are too high for us and our economic future depends on a strong transportation infrastructure network. I look forward to working with you on this critical issue.