Questions of transportation
MBTA’s Maria Fuentes talks with Representative William P. Browne about the federal stimulus, MaineDOT paving cuts and the state of Maine’s transportation network.
Do you think Maine will see real benefits from the federal stimulus package?
Rep. Browne: Yes, we are seeing some benefits, certainly I-295 and some of the other projects. It has done partially what was intended in the short term, but I really don’t see any great long-term benefits.
What about Maine’s transportation infrastructure has hurt the state’s economy? What has helped the economy?
Rep. Browne: Our road system has helped the economy. We complain about our roads, but I was recently talking with some folks from other states – Rhode Island and Vermont – and they said Maine roads are better than theirs. It doesn’t mean our roads are ideal, but at least we know we have to take care of our roads, otherwise things will get even worse.
High fuel prices have hurt our economy, trucking and tourism in particular. Also, our rail system has been an impediment. If we can make rail more efficient and dependable, that would help the state.
What is the most critical transportation need facing the state? What about facing the people in your district?
Rep. Browne: Without a doubt, the most erratic situation we are facing is not having a sustainable funding source for highways and bridges. We absolutely need something more dependable. We cannot count on the fuel tax – it fluctuates too much – and we can’t keep funding other things with that fuel tax money, like the ferry system.
In my district, we need to make sure we can depend on URIP (Urban Rural Initiative Program) funding. We can live with what we have, but we never know what it is or when it is going to be cut.
The CanAm Connections study discusses transportation infrastructure in the Northeast border corridor and its effects on economic development opportunities. What steps do you think Maine should take to remove the barriers to global trade opportunities?
Rep. Browne: This doesn’t only impact Maine, but our No. 1 problem in terms of global trade is the interstate weight limits. We also need to have an east-west highway and extend interstate north of Houlton. We also need better rail service from Sears Island.
Based on what happened during this past session, the MaineDOT can only fund 250 miles of maintenance surface treatment (MST), when it should be funding 1,200 to 1,400 miles. Your thoughts?
Rep. Browne: Our budget priorities have to change. Funding transportation should be the highest priority of the Highway Fund budget. We are picking up more responsibility like the ferry system and shifting responsibility to the Highway Fund that should stay within the General Fund. We must increase capital expenditures – we can’t have them decrease while administrative costs increase. That is, in effect, what has happened when the Department of Administrative and Financial Services (DAFS) took over some of the administrative function of the Highway Fund.
What was the most significant transportation success this session? What was your biggest disappointment?
Rep. Browne: I am not sure we had any great success other than having a balanced budget that is required by our constitution. The biggest disappointment was the mess we got into with the MST program. We should have funded that program from our biennial Highway Fund budget and we didn’t.
Which airport do you most frequently fly out of? How many times a year do you fly?
Rep. Browne: Since we don’t have an airport in Vassalboro, I usually fly out of Portland, probably about two times per year.
Have you ever taken a ferry in Maine? How frequently?
Rep. Browne: Not in recent memory.
What is the most common constituent complaint you hear about transportation?
Rep. Browne: I hear complaints about the high cost of fuel, and toll increases, as well as road conditions. In my community, I hear complaints about not spending enough money on paving.
How have your transportation habits / commuting habits changed in the last year?
Rep. Browne: My habits haven’t changed, but I have had to adjust my fuel budget considerably. In my farming operation where I cut and sell hay, my fuel costs have almost doubled in the last couple of years.
What is the worst and best road you frequently travel on?
Rep. Browne: A couple of roads in Augusta – Mt. Vernon Avenue and State Street are pretty bad. The Middle Road in Sidney is also in terrible shape. Route 201 is in good shape.