120 days and counting jobs
After passage of the stimulus bill, Maine is moving fast to create jobs and fix our crumbling infrastructure – but the work has only just begun to repair our transportation and economy
by Gregory A. Dore, MBTA President
Transportation has been in the news a lot lately. More than usual, and that is thanks to several reasons. Foremost is a presidential campaign that focused on reinvesting in our transportation infrastructure as a way to stimulate our economy. Although the total amount of transportation funding in the recovery plan ended up being only 6 percent of the total package, the campaign and the ensuing legislation did increase awareness of transportation.
One benefit of all that attention is that the stimulus funding has hit the ground. Here in Maine there are projects already underway – and jobs being created and saved. In late February, MaineDOT announced that MBTA member Pike Industries was the low bidder on the first stimulus-funded project to be awarded – the reconstruction of a 23-mile stretch of I-295 from Topsham to Gardiner. Early figures suggest that project will mean 840 jobs, with the majority of them going to Maine residents, according to Pike Industries officials.
That’s only the beginning. MaineDOT has said it plans to obligate all of its $130 million or more in transportation stimulus windfall within 120 days – the deadline set by the U.S. Congress for committal of half of the funds. That will mean a sizable influx of family wage jobs – as many as 4,500 jobs – by mid-June. MaineDOT estimates that the total number of transportation jobs created by the stimulus, combined with the department’s 2009 planned spending, will be close to 11,000. That is good news and not a moment too soon, because Maine and the region are feeling the deepening effects of the recession. Unemployment is at the highest level in many years, and Maine needs these jobs badly.
Still, we can’t take our eye off the longer view, and that is a theme that runs throughout this issue of Maine Trails. The cover story, “Beyond the stimulus,” looks at the federal transportation reauthorization debate taking shape in Washington and interviews three leaders with front row seats to the debate: Congressman Mike Michaud, who sits on the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee; MaineDOT Commissioner David Cole; and Jack Basso, of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.
A second story about a recently released report by the National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission talks about what is shaping up to be a big part of the debate – which funding options should the Congress consider as it tackles the reauthorization. With revenues from the federal gas tax failing to meet infrastructure needs, the commission found that it is time for “sweeping reforms.”
Here in Maine, we are tackling the issue of priorities for the upcoming biennial cycle. Governor John Baldacci has announced a $306 million “statewide stimulus plan” that includes $127.8 million in transportation bonding. It is a well-rounded package that contains significant increases in funding for rail, ports and transit. But while it is a good step during tough economic times, it still does not come close to funding the gap between transportation needs and funding. And we will never see the level of investment Maine needs in its highways, bridges, ports and rail until state and national leaders commit to reversing decades of neglect and underfunding.
That brings me back to my opening point. Maine needs the jobs – not just the kind of construction jobs that come directly from highway, port and rail funding. I mean the kind that come with significant, long-term and sustained investment in transportation. Investment like that supports economic development for our cities and towns and that makes it more cost-effective for businesses to transport their goods to markets around the world. It gives us access to participate in the global trade boom and that brings a wide variety of jobs and economic diversity to our state.
I hope that you will join the MBTA as we continue to work with state and national leaders to tackle these challenging issues – and continue to make investment in transportation infrastructure a priority. Watch your e-mail and the MBTA web site for updates – and when you can – let our leaders know that this is of vital importance to you, your families and communities. We have seen just how much can get done – and how many family wage jobs can be created – when our leaders take this message to heart!
Finally, I’d like to say thank you to the more than 400 individuals, organizations and businesses who have renewed their membership in the MBTA so far this year. Your support is so important to helping us in our work to make transportation in Maine safer and more efficient for all Mainers. We have many events coming up – Transportation Day in April and our 70th MBTA Annual Meeting in May.
I look forward to seeing you – and continuing the good work of MBTA together.