Taking on the $3 billion challenge
MBTA ushers in 70th year with new slate of officers, big challenges
More than 200 mbta members, friends and family in May gathered in Augusta to mark the beginning of a new year for the organization, the 70th such gathering since its founding in 1939. There were several new members to meet and greet and lots to say about the shortfalls in the Maine Highway Fund and the Federal Highway Trust under discussion at the state capitol and in Washington, D.C.
Maine Senate President Elizabeth H. Mitchell (D-Kennebec County) and Senate Minority Leader Kevin L. Raye (R-Washington County) talked about shrinking transportation funding and growing needs that Raye called the “$3 billion pothole.” Three billion dollars is the estimated shortfall that MaineDOT faces during the next 10 years if new transportation funding is not secured. Raye also told of his recent brush with the state’s crumbling infrastructure, when a chunk of concrete from a bridge hit his car, causing more than $2,000 in damage.
Outgoing President Gregory A. Dore summed it up when he described a dire funding situation fueled by a slow economy and falling gas tax revenues. He said the situation has been made only momentarily better by federal stimulus spending of $130 million: “While the stimulus funding was a great boost for this year – it is only a drop in a multi-billion dollar bucket,” said Dore. He added that MBTA is working with legislators and other interested parties to help find a solution, “even if it is a partial solution, so we don’t dig an even bigger hole. It is critical that we get new revenues into the Highway Fund.”
That message was heard, not only by members, but by state law--makers attending the event, including Senator Richard W. Rosen (R-Hancock), Assistant House Minority Leader Philip A. Curtis (R-Madison) and House Majority Whip Seth A. Berry (D-Bowdoinham). The legislature’s Transportation Committee was well represented by committee co-chairs Senator Dennis S. Damon (D-Hancock County) and Representative Edward J. Mazurek (D-Rockland); Senator Walter R. Gooley (R-Franklin County); Representative William P. Browne (R-Vassalboro); Representative Ann E. Peoples (D-Westbrook); Representative Douglas A. Thomas (R-Ripley); Representative Kimberley C. Rosen (R-Bucksport); and Representative Charles Kenneth Theriault (D-Madawaska).
MBTA business took center stage, as well. Dore introduced the 2009-2010 Executive Committee, led by incoming MBTA President Thomas H. Martin, Jr., of NITRAM Excavation & General Contractor. Dore praised Martin’s commitment to the future of transportation – and his “unique blend of experience in both the public and private sector.” He told how the MBTA’s new president grew up in the construction side of the industry. His father had founded T.H. Martin in Benton, and Tom worked for his father’s company, as well as on the public side, for the public works departments of Auburn and Windham (he was director of Windham’s department). Dore also lauded Martin’s civic dedication. Martin is a past president of the Maine Chapter of the American Public Works Association, has served on the MBTA board for five years and chaired its Infrastructure Golf Tournament.
Martin took the podium and talked about his goals for the coming year that include continuing to raise public awareness of the crucial importance of investing in Maine’s transportation infrastructure and working with lawmakers to address the funding gap. He also urged his fellow members to help expand the membership and continue to strengthen community partnerships essential to the MBTA’s mission of advocacy for safer, more efficient transportation for Maine.
With the MBTA business complete, comedian Rich Ceisler – a self proclaimed “stand up chameleon” – brought down the house with his hilarious take on modern life, but not before he paid homage to the reason why everyone had gathered for the evening.
“This gig is a dream come true,” Ceisler told his audience. “I’m a big fan of transportation. That’s how I got here tonight.”
The evening closed with a drawing for the Infrastructure Fund Raffle. Three winners were announced: Sandi Gomez of CCB, Inc.; Sarah Marriner of Marriners Inc.; and Conrad Welzel of Maine Turnpike Authority.