Maine Trails, February - March '08
Inside Cover
President's Message
Cover Story
MaineDOT plans $247 million
Conversations with the Committee
Chinese on the menu
Member News

President’s Message
Highway vs. alternative transportation. That’s not the real battle.
By Lauren Corey, MBTA President

Cover Story: A rising tide
Port experts see opportunity in emerging marine and freight shiping trends
By Douglas Rooks

MaineDOT plans $247 million in projects for coming year
2008 work plan includes few bridges and a big late addition
By Kathryn Buxton

Conversations with the Committee
The fifth and final in a series of Maine Trails interviews with members of the Maine Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Transportation. In this issue we interview Representative Douglas A. Thomas about transportation in Maine, the funding challenges on the state level and his vision for the future of our transportation system.
By Maria Fuentes

Chinese on the menu
MBTA holiday meeting looks east for clues to Maine transportation future

MBTA members go 'Extreme'
When the Extreme Makeover: Home Edition design team was preparing to film an episode about building a new home for the Ray-Smith family of Milbridge, Maine, they turned to MBTA member R. F. Jordan & Sons Construction of Ellsworth to help out.

President’s Message

Highway vs. alternative transportation. That’s not the real battle.

By Lauren Corey, MBTA President

In recent years, the MBTA has prided itself on working with diverse interests and championing all modes of transportation. Recently, due undoubtedly to the transportation funding crisis this state is in, groups have been splintering and the mood has been one of “us” versus “them.”

This is unfortunate, as what the transportation community needs is to stand together to advocate for funding for all modes of transportation. We know that transportation as a whole has declined dramatically as a priority at both the state and national level. While transportation used to make up 26 percent of state revenues 30 years ago, today that number is less than 10 percent. Transportation advocates should work together to turn that around.

Maine’s roads and bridges are in dire need of funding. We rank 13th in the nation when it comes to deficient, outdated bridges. The pavement condition of our highways is the worst in the New England region. Maine faces a $2.2-billion shortfall in funding to address these much needed repairs and maintenance over the next 10 years.
The truth is, we need to invest in all modes, and we will never make progress if we make any one mode our ultimate cause, or worse, engage in bashing a specific mode.


Don’t forget freight rail

At a recent meeting for public comment on the I-295 corridor, MaineDOT reiterated that “safety is paramount” to their mission and to their 20-year work plan. Yet, most who showed up for the meeting chose to engage in “highway bashing,” suggesting that expanding capacity on Maine’s most congested section of highway is somehow frivolous.

Keeping Maine’s transportation network safe – including corridors of concern such as I-295 in greater Portland – will require using what funds we have available to address our most critical safety concerns first. That means we need to fund expansion and reconstruction of congested highways, repair our backlog of 386 old and crumbling bridges and bring our rural roads up to modern standards. That isn’t the only thing we should do.

Economically, commercial rail expansion and development of our ports will help expand Maine’s tax base and reduce our carbon footprint. While all of the recent attention has been focused on passenger rail versus highway expansion, we’ve overlooked our freight rail and marine networks. Continuing to do so will be to the detriment of Maine’s economic health.

Out of reach

We need to be honest about current transportation services. While we’re establishing priorities, we have to remember the impact each dollar we spend will have for all of the people of Maine.

Even today, after breaking records in ridership and a fifth round trip added to the Downeaster’s schedule in 2007, the train serves some 300,000 passengers per year. Maine’s interstate carries that many people on a single summer day. The Downeaster has been very successful and is a critical link and important to our citizens and our tourism industry. Still, let’s be honest about what it can and cannot do. The train, while successful, has had little impact on traffic congestion to date, and the jury is out on whether it will have significant impact in the future. So why are we bashing highways and saying that passenger rail can fix our congestion problems?

The truth is, if we continue to underfund transportation in our state, both modernizing I-295 and extending train service will be out of our reach.

Consequently, we should make sure the critical decisions we make today, with funding in such short supply, address the safety of our citizens and economic viability for our communities. We need to set our priorities and stick to them. We need to balance today’s needs against our longer-term goals. The vast majority of our citizens and businesses use roads to commute to work and to recreate. Should there be alternatives? Of course. But I don’t believe they will replace the needs of our highway system. And the citizens agree. We know that when Maine voters overwhelmingly pass transportation bonds, what most inspires their vote is the highway and bridge component.

Address the gap, now

So what are we arguing about? The gap in funding on both state and federal levels is alarming, and we don’t have time to sit around and squabble about whether this bridge or that train is more deserving. We need to address the gap now.

Recently, the Maine Legislature passed MBTA’s bill, LD 1790: “An Act to Secure Maine’s Transportation Future.” The bill creates mechanisms for reversing the terrible deterioration of Maine’s transportation infrastructure. The new law provides the means for investing in highways and alternative modes, including passenger rail, transit and freight. What the law lacks is funding.

I encourage every one of you to get involved on a personal level in the “campaign” to revitalize our transportation infrastructure that the MBTA is currently championing. If we are successful, everyone will win with safer highways and bridges, thriving ports and rail – and the jobs and quality of life that come with a modern and efficient transportation network.

Cover Story: A rising tide

Port experts see opportunity in emerging marine and freight shiping trends

By Douglas Rooks

Maine has a 'large, market-driven opportunity' to build a new container terminal at Searsport, according to a new study of Maine’s three-port strategy, the basic focus of state maritime policy since the 1980s.

The study, conducted by the Cornell Group of Fairfax, Va. for the Maine Port Authority, an independent state agency affiliated with MaineDOT, surveys facilities, customers, and markets for the three ports at Eastport, Searsport and Portland, finding challenges and opportunities for each operation.

Port operators are still digesting the 110-page study, which provides detailed analysis and some bold conclusions, and it is safe to say the discussion will continue for some time to come.

By the numbers

Most of the cargo that moves through Maine’s seacoast is in the form of oil – 27 millions tons of it through the tank farms in South Portland, built during World War II. Still, Maine’s capacity to handle oil is stagnant, and the possibility of expanding petroleum handling along the coast is unlikely. Maine has seen several liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals proposed recently, but none related to oil.

The focus for new port business is liquid and dry bulk commodities, break-bulk and containers. In that respect Maine’s three major ports are highly competitive. Portland is still the leader in dry traffic at over 660,000 tons in 2006, but Searsport, with its new facilities at Mack Point operational, is not far behind, at over 500,000 tons. Eastport is third at 300,000 tons. The state total of 1.65 million tons was just off the record set the previous year.

The long-term prospects for Maine’s maritime trade are excellent, said John Henshaw, the new executive director of the Maine Port Authority. Henshaw comes from a supply chain management background – from Fairchild Semiconductor in South Portland – and says he’s trying to learn everything there is to know about ocean shipping.

What he’s found is that the growth of world trade, plus the steeply increasing price of energy, means that a lot more goods will be transported by water in the near to mid-term future. “We have the location, the access, and the workforce to contemplate major expansion,” he said.

Rob Elder, of MaineDOT’s Office of Freight and Business Services, said that ports will not be confined to the blue water shipping that most people think of when they see tankers and freighters and container ships coming and going. “Short-sea shipping, which Portland has excelled at, should be a major growth area,” he said. “The pressure is on to reduce truck traffic along the I-95 corridor, and, along with rail, ports are the best way to do that.”

Elder said that, though Domtar is the major customer for Eastport at the moment, the whole north Atlantic range should be able to find new business over the coming decade. “If you look from Nova Scotia to Maine, shippers will be wanting to avoid the congestion they’re experiencing in New York and the mid-Atlantic. The business will be there, if we can take advantage.”

Private risk, public gain

How Maine will position itself to take advantage of growing world trade is a large part of the unfolding story. Rob Elder says the possibility of a privately financed container operation at Searsport represents a significant evolution from the way Maine has expanded port operations in the past.

When Eastport opened cargo operations in 1981, creating the third of the major ports, it was with an “if you build it, they will come” mission, Elder said. Build it they did; the new pier was constructed at Estes Head at the end of the 1990’s. Eastport, which moved 15,000 tons of dry cargo at the downtown breakwater that year, has grown fairly steadily since, reaching a peak of more than 390,000 tons in 2006. It remains dependent, however, on a single major customer, the Domtar mill in Baileyville, one of the biggest producers of hardwood pulp on the East Coast.

The next major renovation of port facilities came at Searsport during the King administration, when the state built a new pier and portside facilities at Mack Point with funding from a transportation bond issue. The mainland site was once a fuel depot for Loring Air Force Base. The commercial operators, Sprague Energy, are acquiring the facility over 30 years.
The latest plan would be for private investors to lease land from the state but assume full financial responsibility for building and operating a container port, probably on Sears Island. Terms of a Joint Use Planning Committee (JUPC) agreement signed earlier by the state requires the Maine Port Authority to investigate the feasibility of building on Mack Point, but most container port designs will require more on-shore land than is available there. The JUPC is in the process of delineating a boundary for the 941-acre Sears Island. By April the group will propose dividing the island into a 600-acre conservation easement, with the remaining 341 acres reserved for port development under MaineDOT oversight.

Elder refers to this as a private sector opportunity, with the state acting as host and long-term owner of the site, with private investors taking most of the risks and receiving the benefits of the transaction. A state bond issue for full funding, he said, would not be feasible because of the scale of the operation that the Cornell Group pegs at $197 million. Current expectations are for a two-berth pier that could be expanded to four berths later. If constructed, the Sears Island operation would be a much-delayed resumption of a port facility that the state began constructing in 1978, when they completed a causeway to the island and dredged the channel.

Construction shut down after a protracted battle concerning environmental permits.

Portland’s diversity
While the Cornell Group report points to significant opportunities at Searsport, Maine’s other ports have potential, as well. For Jeff Monroe, Portland’s director of Ports and Transportation, a seaport has the greatest opportunities when it is part of a growing economic region, with a diversity of industrial and commercial users, access to other forms of transportation, and significant population densities. In Maine, Portland best meets all those descriptions, he said.

“We have shippers, customers, rail access and great diversity on the water – cruise ships, ferries, commercial fishing, tankers, containers and bulk. This is a very cyclical business. You need to have a lot of different users, such as we have here. And you also need the support network that provides a critical mass.”

Portland, he said, can be competitive for the same uses projected at Searsport. The city is still reorganizing its commercial operations with completion of the first phase of the Ocean Gateway project, with the containers at the International Marine Terminal moving into the former ferry terminal. “We’re looking to the long term as we expand and reconfigure our operations,” Monroe said. “The city council is strongly behind our working waterfront, and we don’t expect that to change.”

Developing markets for Eastport?

In Eastport, longtime port operator Skip Rogers, general manager of the Federal Marine Terminals (FMT) division there, is seeing the best of times, but has concerns for the future. Rogers has seen record tonnage from the Domtar pulp mill over the past two years, but the future for northeast hardwood pulp is not assured, he said. “As the eucalyptus plantations in the tropics gear up, it puts a lot of pricing pressure on the traditional mills,” he said. “No one is sure just where this will end up.”

Rogers said the key to making the Eastport terminal more productive is rail access, something the port has always lacked. A rail link capable of moving contemporary cargo would involve an expensive trestle, something the state has never included in its transportation planning. To Rogers, that’s unfortunate. “We have unlimited deep water access,” he said. “You could bring any ship in the world here, and you don’t have to dredge, as you do in Searsport.”

FMT manages freight terminals in Tampa Bay, Richmond, Virginia. Cleveland, Milwaukee, Albany, Burns Harbor, Indiana, and Toronto. FMT’s Rogers sees a lot of unrealized potential at Eastport. He believes the Cornell Group report should have spent more time developing options there.

Among the potential new cargoes the port is studying are wood pellets, which are becoming a major heat source in Europe and are catching on here, too. The question is whether there’s enough value added to make the product viable for long-range shipping, he said.

“It’s our job to be the engine that could,” Rogers said. “We’re going to take a look at anything and everything.”

Searsport’s moment?

Among the most enthusiastic responses to the Cornell Group report comes from David Gelinas, who pilots ships to Searsport and elsewhere in Penobscot Bay. In January, Gelinas guided the largest ship ever docked at Mack Point, the 800-foot Baldock, registered in the Bahamas, and carrying 75,000 tons of gypsum from Spain. The Baldock, which draws 38 feet of water, used all of Searsport’s capacity, which is about 40 feet at low tide.

“Those of us who work on the water naturally want to see more freight and traffic of all kinds,” Gelinas said of the Cornell Group report. “But these are professionals who work all over the world. They have the numbers that show this is a solid opportunity that can be realized right now. We don’t have to wait and wonder.”

All signs are that, while there’s more potential business for all three ports, a container operation at Searsport would be the biggest addition to Maine’s maritime operations.

The Cornell Group projects a 186 percent increase in worldwide container traffic over the next 20 years, a rate of growth that would overwhelm existing ports. The question seems to be not whether new capacity will be built, but where. “You could locate ports anywhere north of Boston, all the way through Nova Scotia,” said Rob Elder. “But we think there are unique advantages to Searsport, factors that make it truly competitive.”

Among the advantages are, a direct rail link to Montreal and from there to the Midwest. Service is a lot faster and more reliable than most people realize, Elder said. “Right now, you can get a double stack container secure through to Chicago in 52 hours. We’re in the right place, with the combination of deep water and rail access, to attract investment.”

Those who claim that Searsport is too isolated to make a large container operation successful are missing the point, Elder said. “Trans-shipment is a big opportunity, serving big markets in Southern Canada and the U.S. Midwest that we can reach faster and more reliably, given the congestion elsewhere.” Searsport has the advantage of a direct rail link to Montreal and from there to the midwest. Locating a port here, Elder said, provides local opportunities to expand, as well. Shipping rates would be much lower for companies that move large quantities of products in bulk. Processing operations recently set up at Mack Point show what is possible, he said.

Bob Grindrod, president of the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railroad (MM&A), confirms and amplifies these points. The MM&A provides a direct link from Searsport to suburban Montreal, and shipping by this route to Chicago and the entire midwest is faster than through more congested networks elsewhere on the east coast. The MM&A maintains one of the largest rail networks in Maine, some 750 miles, from Searsport to Montreal and, from track diverging at Brownville Junction, to far northern Maine, Houlton, and connecting to the Canadian National system east of Van Buren.

Extending track to a container port on Sears Island would be a simple proposition, since the existing causeway was built to accommodate rail, he said. The MM&A is already capable of double-stacking containers, which, as one might imagine, doubles the capacity of rail cars.

Currently, the railroad moves significant amounts of bulk freight, including lumber and pulp. Another growth area is heavy oil for industrial facilities throughout northern Maine, including mills in Madawaska, Fort Kent, Presque Isle, Caribou and Millinocket. The railroad recently shipped a large generator, built by GE overseas, destined for western Canada. “GE was pleased with how the port performed,” he said.

Moving fast enough?

Others question whether the state is moving fast enough to seize the opportunity. Dave Gelinas is critical of the agreement under the Joint Use Planning Committee that sets up a 600-acre conservation easement without providing any solid guarantee a port will be built on the remaining acreage. “They say we have the opportunity to use the 341 acres for a port plan, but we had 941 acres before, and we gave up 600,” he said. “To me, the port plan should have moved forward at the same time as the conservation easement. This way, there’s no guarantee we won’t have the same kind of opposition and lawsuits we’ve had in the past.”

It isn’t too big a leap to imagine a Sears Island container port as a major money-maker for the state. “Similar sites are being leased for $3,000, $4,000, even $5,000 an acre per month,” Gelinas said. “Imagine what we could do with a 300-acre container port – if we can get it built.”

Gelinas also wonders whether the three-port strategy is really living up to its billing. He points to the modular manufacturing facility that Cianbro is building at the site of the old Eastern Fine Paper mill in Brewer. Access to the Penobscot River is crucial to the construction of the large modular units for a huge oil refinery being constructed on the Gulf Coast.

“This is a big success story for Maine, and it happened without any help from the state,” he said. “What other opportunities are there that we may be missing?”

Rob Elder said that the state welcomes “single purpose” maritime facilities like the Cianbro barge operation, but that the three-port system is meant to support a variety of uses. There are other examples of productive single-purpose waterfront operations, he said, such as the Dragon Cement pier in Rockland, that ships over 100,000 tons of concrete a year from the main plant in Thomaston.

But Gelinas believes that Cianbro’s Brewer plan, important as it is, could represent a missed opportunity, too. “This is a company that’s working in the world market, that’s built giant oil rigs and tanker hulls. They have 14 feet of water on the Penobscot to work with. Imagine what they could do with 42 feet off Sears Island. We may just have given away something of real value.”

If it’s true that a rising tide lifts all boats, then Maine’s ports should be well-positioned to launch requests for proposals in the near future. One of the few aspects of the Cornell Group report that bothers Fred Michaud, a policy development specialist at MaineDOT, is the emphasis on diverting business away from other ports and bringing it to Maine.
“Their own numbers show that there will be a major capacity problem, and that we’ll need new facilities just to handle the growth,” he said. “We don’t have to be taking away business from anyone, and not from any other port in Maine. These should be good times for our ports, maybe great times.”

MaineDOT plans $247 million in projects for coming year

2008 work plan includes few bridges and a big late addition

By Kathryn Buxton

MaineDOT engineers and planners are putting the finishing touches on the department’s 2008 Capital Work Plan. The $247 million plan includes 11 bridge replacements and a major $32 million rehabilitation of I-295 southbound from Gardiner to Topsham. That project was a late entry to the work plan after issues with other projects caused them to slip to later years, providing a cash flow opportunity. An example was a bridge replacement in Naples that was postponed for one year due to cost increases and public concerns over bridge types.

“We’re trying to get as much work out as possible,” said MaineDOT Commissioner David Cole during a special presentation on the advertisement schedule for the capital work plan to the MBTA board of directors in February. He said that the plan may be revised to reflect the recently released federal 2008 budget, which includes funding at
SAFETEA-LU levels and some additional funding for bridges mandated by Congress after the collapse of the I-35W Bridge in Minneapolis last August.

The plan calls for only 11 bridges to be replaced in 2008. That is far short of the 30 to 40 annual bridge replacements called for in Governor Baldacci’s bridge report, “Keeping Our Bridges Safe” released in late November 2007. Routine maintenance, from deck or culvert replacement to painting, is planned for 24 other bridges.

During the presentation, Cole pointed out that Maine will hit a major milestone in 2008. This year 50 percent of the state’s bridges will be 50 years old or older. He cautioned that MaineDOT will not be able make headway in its plans to replenish the state’s bridge stock unless new funding becomes available. Cole noted that the bridge report “calls for an extra $50-60 million a year for the next 20 years,” to fix Maine’s crumbling bridges.

Tough choices

Cole and Bruce Van Note, MaineDOT’s deputy commissioner for operations and budget, talked in detail about the 2008-09 work plan that includes about $136 million in paving, a 27 percent increase from the previous biennium. “This reflects prioritization given available funding,” Van Note said. “We need a substantial paving program to maintain our investment in built roads and try to keep unbuilt roads passable.” 

The department’s quandary – how to make do with the limited funding available to them – is being watched closely by industry leaders who are planning for the upcoming season.

 “It looks like we’re going to see paving work levels similar to what we saw last year. But as for road construction or reconstruction, there’s quite a decline,” said Rodney Lane of The Lane Construction Corporation based in Hermon. Only 25 major highway reconstruction projects are included on the 2008 schedule. While MaineDOT plans to tackle some long-overdue projects such as Route 2 from Bethel to Gilead and the 22-mile southbound stretch of I-295 in Gardiner, those projects are only a drop in the bucket of Maine’s backlog of deficient highways.

Scheduled major highway reconstruction projects total only $105 million for the biennium, which is 28 percent less than last biennium, and 48 percent less than three bienniums ago.

“It’s true, our dirt work has dropped significantly,” Van Note said. “But in these times we are forced into very tough choices.” 

There is also a troubling lack of planning for future projects. The work plan has little budgeted for engineering of future highway and bridge reconstruction in the pipeline.

Cole said that department officials are frustrated that despite education of voters about the looming infrastructure crisis – including the bridge report that he described as “unvarnished” – the public seems to have a false perception that current funding levels are sufficient to ensure their bridges and highways are safe long-term.

“We hate being in this position that we’re headed backwards,” said Cole who said that MaineDOT’s long-term plan identifies an additional $250 million a year over the next 10 years to get its program moving forward again.

Tough winter, tough competition

Tim Folster of Sargent Corporation of Stillwater said that it’s not just the type of contracts (paving vs. reconstruction), but also the size of the contracts at issue. He said that many of the contracts put out to bid so far have been small ones. “Numbers-wise they are small jobs – most of them are under under $1 million and that doesn’t go very far,” he said.

He said the state’s lack of investment in its infrastructure is really beginning to show. This winter’s heavy snows and frequent thaws have wreaked havoc with highways, and that has not gone unnoticed by drivers who have complained mightily. Folster said Maine’s pothole population will continue to grow as long as the state allows its highway reconstruction program to fall further behind.

“The old highways don’t have the structure or the drainage,” said Folster. This time of year with high snowfall and repeated thawing and freezing, it’s as if “the road is floating,” he said.

The lack of significant investment in state highways is trickling down to the municipal level, as well. That has meant competition for locally administered jobs has grown fiercer.

“We bid on a project in Wells where there were 10 bidders on the one project,” said Phil Grondin, Jr., of R. J. Grondin & Sons in Gorham, adding that there was only a $19 spread between the top two bidders. He said that he expects that “things are going to be getting pretty competitive” and that Grondin’s estimators have been “sharpening their pencils to make sure that we get the work we need to keep our crews busy.”

Changing ways

For its part, MaineDOT’s Van Note said that department planners are changing how it programs projects for its work plans to help protect the buying power of its limited budget. In past years, if a project like the Naples bridge was delayed, the money allocated for the project would be put aside. Now, MaineDOT transfers those funds to other projects, and reserves funding for the delayed project in the next capital plan.

“We’ve shifted from a piggy-bank model to a cash-flow model,” said Van Note. “Of course, the downside is that this means there will be less capacity to program new work next time, but we’ve got to get the money out there to move the economy and make the system safer.”

The I-295 rehabilitation, estimated at about $31 million, includes rubblizing the old concrete surface and replacing it with an asphalt surface. MaineDOT hopes to close down both southbound lanes of traffic and detour traffic around the work site throughout this summer. MaineDOT is discussing the “get-in-get-out” plan with communities within the project corridor and hopes to have the project advertised in April.

Bigger needs

In Hermon, Rodney Lane is concerned about the effect that the recent public focus on bridges will have. He said that the current project list appears to have shifted more of MaineDOT’s scarce resources to bridges and, as a result, is creating an even bigger backlog of needed highway reconstruction.

“The reality is, none of the programs have enough funding,” said Lane. “Not bridges or paving or highway reconstruction.” He said that by just shifting too-scarce resources from one program to the next, Maine is falling further behind and putting its transportation infrastructure at risk.

He sees investment in public works as a way to jumpstart a flagging state economy. “We need nearly double the program we have [to address the backlog of bridges and highways] – and just think what that would pump into the economy,” said Lane. “We’d be creating jobs and investing in something our children will benefit from.”

Conversations with the Committee

 The fifth and final in a series of Maine Trails interviews with members of the Maine Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Transportation. In this issue we interview Representative Douglas A. Thomas about transportation in Maine, the funding challenges on the state level and his vision for the future of our transportation system. 

By Maria Fuentes

Representative Douglas A. Thomas (R-Ripley)

Doug Thomas of Ripley is serving his second term in the Maine House. He represents District 24 which includes the towns of Athens, Charleston, Dexter, Garland, Harmony and Ripley. Rep. Thomas owns and operates a retail firewood business, and is active in his local community. He has served on the Ripley Board of Selectmen, the S.A.D. No. 46 School Board, the Somerset County Budget Committee and the Regional Transportation Advisory Committee for region 4. He is a graduate of Mount View High School and attended Unity College, and has two children and two grandchildren.

How long have you served on the Transportation Committee? 
This is my second term, so it’s my fourth year.

Do you serve on other committees?
I serve on the Labor Committee.

Why did you want this committee assignment?
I wanted transportation because of my experience and my background. It is critical to the economy. My main reason for running for the legislature was to improve the economy. As a state, our wages should be at least as good as the national average. Maine is a great place to live and there is no reason we shouldn’t be at the national average. We can’t get there without good roads.
What is the one thing that you would like to see changed/enacted/achieved regarding Maine’s transportation system during your term?
We need to improve our roads. We need to work on every impediment there is to making our roads better. We should 1) reduce costs, 2) innovate, and 3) elevate roads and bridges as a priority for state government. Roads and bridges are not the priority they should be. But at the same time, we have to find every possible way to be more efficient and to become better at improving them. We should follow my mother’s advice, which was to “stretch every dollar as far as we can.”
What will be the biggest challenge to achieving that?
The biggest challenge is getting other elected officials to realize how important our system is and to recognize how badly we have neglected our transportation system.
How would you describe the state of transportation in Maine today? 
In a word, inadequate.

If you had the ability to change one aspect of Maine’s transportation system with the wave of a wand, what would it be? 
Transportation would be one of the top three priorities of state government.

Did you support LD 1790? If yes, what do you think are the best prospects or strategies for getting the bill funded? If no, why not? 
I didn’t support 1790 because I believe it is in conflict with the state constitution. I believe it allows the state to borrow money without a public vote and I am against that. We are shifting our bills to our grandkids and that’s just not right.  There are times to borrow and times not to. The Penobscot Narrows Bridge was an emergency, and we needed it. That was different. People want better roads, there is no question about that, or they wouldn’t support the bond issues. But the people should be the ones to decide.

Earlier this year, an OPEGA study was released that suggested the Highway Fund should pay between 17 and 34 percent of the State Police budget versus the 60 percent it is currently paying. Do you support having the General Fund pay a higher percentage of the State Police budget? 
Yes, I do. If it were up to me, the General Fund would pay 83 percent of the State Police budget.

How many vehicles with wheels do you and your family own (including automobiles, trucks, bikes, ATVs, snowmobiles, RVs, etc.)? 
I have two cars, two pick ups, four delivery trucks for firewood, one gravel truck and various log loaders and other equipment.

How do you get to Boston?
By car.
In your daily travels, what is the worst road you travel on? What’s the best? 
Route 7 from Dexter to Dover is the worst road. It’s horrible. Also, Guilford to Greenville – that road is a goat trail. And that’s a major artery. It’s disgraceful. The best road is the interstate.
Do you have a favorite scenic route? 
Route 201 from Bingham to Jackman.

Do you have a vision of what transportation in Maine will look like in 20 years? 
My vision would include a good east-west route as well as good north-south transportation. I would hope at that time we would allow 100,000-pound trucks on the interstate. That would be good for the economy, and that is where the heavy trucks belong. 

What we need to find is a better way to utilize the creativity, innovation and efficiency of the private sector more effectively. We can learn a lot from observing the private sector and MaineDOT should, too – how they are held accountable, how they pay their bills, how they deliver projects in a way that is better for taxpayers. As a state, we should use the private sector more.

Chinese on the menu

MBTA holiday meeting looks east for clues to Maine transportation future

Forget your outdated vision of China as a transportation backwater where goods and services move on the backs of pack animals over an antiquated network of unpaved roads. Today, more often than not, Chinese workers commute via high speed rail, and Chinese products move on a modern freight network that seamlessly links the factory floor with markets throughout the world.

MaineDOT Commissioner David Cole recently returned from a fact-finding mission to mainland China with a group of U.S. transportation officials. At the MBTA Holiday Meeting in Bangor on December 13, Cole offered his views on China’s explosive growth in infrastructure investment.

“You can see the progress. It’s very, very real,” said Cole who through statistics and photos created a strong sense of awe for the accomplishments achieved by China during the past decade. He said that progress is readily evident in efficient new ports and cities where there once were none and a newly constructed network of highways and rail lines that crisscross the expansive country.

A national strategy

China’s impressive expansion of its transportation network has been the result of a top-down “national strategic plan for transportation” that Cole described as “management by objective.” He said that plan has been devised and implemented by leaders that clearly understand the connections between investment in roads, highways and freight and the enormous payoffs in economic development being experienced by that country.

“Bottlenecks are viewed as challenges, and Chinese leaders have the courage to deal with them,” said Cole. He said that fearless, can-do attitude has created marvelous results when coupled with a public-private approach to financing. One such example is the ground-up construction of Yangshan-Shanghai, the largest container port in the world and an entirely new urban center for 300,000 residents that will support the port’s operations.

Cole brought the visions of China home for MBTA members with a few choice lessons that can be learned by looking east.

 “Our economy can only be as good as our ability to tap into global markets,” said Cole. That will mean developing container freight capabilities – including a container port and rail freight – that can be a vital connection for shippers looking to link with markets throughout the U.S. and Canada.

He said that it will require recognizing that growth of “jobs in transportation logistics will eclipse manufacturing” and making sure that Maine is positioned to take better advantage of the flow of freight.

Cole’s final observations were to act decisively – and soon – to make investments in Maine’s future. “China’s progress doesn’t have to come at our expense. There is a lot of opportunity there,” said Cole.

Holiday cheer

Cole’s presentation – and the chance to share holiday cheer with their fellow MBTA members – brought 130 members and friends to the meeting at the Black Bear Inn in Orono. Scott Leach, MBTA’s immediate past president, served as the evening’s emcee.

In his opening remarks, Leach looked back on a successful year for the organization that included legislative passage of important new transportation legislation – LD 1790: “An Act to Secure Maine’s Transportation Future” – and voter passage of a $113 million transportation bond package. He urged members to continue their support for transportation investment in 2008, as the MBTA works to get LD 1790 funded by the Maine legislature.

Leach and MBTA Vice President Greg Dore also announced the winners of the sold-out MBTA Super Raffle. Five hundred tickets were sold, raising $17,000 for transportation scholarships that will be awarded by the MBTA Educational Foundation. Michelle Raber, who purchased her ticket from her brother Phil Grondin, Jr., won the grand prize – a $7,000 trip to a location of her choice anywhere in the world. Leach also thanked Bruce Hubbard, the top ticket seller, who sold more than 130 Super Raffle tickets.

Another member proved he had the golden touch when it came to recruiting new members. Rodney Lane took top spot in the Membership Committee Contest. He won a $500 L.L. Bean gift certificate for recruiting 12 new members for the MBTA.

MBTA members go 'Extreme'

When the Extreme Makeover: Home Edition design team was preparing to film an episode about building a new home for the Ray-Smith family of Milbridge, Maine, they turned to MBTA member R. F. Jordan & Sons Construction of Ellsworth to help out.

President and owner, Patrick Jordan did not hesitate, especially since the purpose of the project was to assist a local Maine family. For the project, Jordan’s company provided a crew of 12 and the majority of the construction equipment needed on the site. Another MBTA member, Chadwick-BaRoss, loaned additional equipment for the project.

Jordan’s crew worked around the clock for one week in September to help build the new home. They demolished the family’s old home and cleared the site. They also did the foundation work, created a new leachfield and provided all the materials for the job.

Jordan said the tight schedule dictated by the television production team made for some “nerve wracking” moments. “It was rewarding at the end, but I’m not sure we’d do it like that again,” said Jordan.

John Thebarge, general manager of Chadwick-BaRoss’ Bangor and Caribou dealerships, said his company was glad to play a small role in such a giant good deed. “When Patrick told us about his involvement in the project and that there would be machines from Chadwick-BaRoss on site during the show, we were thrilled for them and for the Ray-Smith family,” said Thebarge.

Both R.F. Jordan and Chadwick-BaRoss have a long history of serving communities in Maine. R. F. Jordan was founded by Pat’s dad, Ronnie, more than 35 years ago. Chadwick-BaRoss began its days as the Portland Tractor Company in 1929. The two companies have done business together for more than 15 years.

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