Maine Highway Fund
supplemental budget still lacking
Despite administrative cuts and efficiencies that helped MaineDOT rebound from a projected $14.3 million revenue shortfall, funding for maintenance program is still sorely lacking.
In december, the Maine Revenue Forecasting Committee announced Highway Fund revenues were expected to fall by $14.3 million (out of the previous total of $621 million budgeted for 2010-2011). The Highway Fund downgrade, the seventh during the past five years, would have been disastrous to the already bare-bones MaineDOT highway maintenance program.
Governor Baldacci unveiled his proposed supplemental Highway Fund budget on December 18, 2009, that showed $33.2 million in savings. With balance forward and other minor adjustments, the net result is $19.7 million in additional allocations in the proposed Highway Fund supplemental budget. This is at a time when the state General Fund is struggling with a $438 million shortfall (out of $5.8 billion General Fund expenditures budgeted for the biennium).
While a net $19.7 million gain for the biennial transportation budget is a positive sign in a difficult economy, it is not nearly enough to offset billions of dollars in underinvestment in the state’s highways and bridges, according to MBTA Executive Director Maria Fuentes.
“We’ve partially dodged a bullet, but we have a freight train of maintenance problems headed directly at us,” said Fuentes. She said over the next 10 years, Maine needs an additional $3 billion dollars to pay for projects that are not being funded. “That’s $3 billion in capital investments to key state highways, bridges and other transportation projects, and because we’re not investing now, repairing them later when they are in worse shape is going to be even more expensive.”
Shorting capital projects
Because of the savings, MaineDOT will be able to put another $18 million into its newly formed “light capital” program. That, said MaineDOT Deputy Commissioner Bruce Van Note, will include funding for about 300 miles of maintenance surface treatment (MST) in fiscal year 2011, a program that had been severely trimmed back due to budget constraints. MST is the light treatment that helps make Maine’s worst roads passable.
It seals the highway surface and smoothes the surface on roads sometimes described as “basket cases.”
Van Note was quick to point out that while the additional MST miles are an improvement, “it’s still only half of what we should be doing.” The department estimates it should treat about 1,200 miles of state highways every two years. Even with the supplemental budget plan, MaineDOT will be treating only about 550 miles, or less than half what is needed.
“The truth is, that while it is good we don’t have to cut the Highway Fund budget, this is just a Band-Aid on a gushing wound,” said Fuentes. “It is good news that we are able to maintenance pave 300 miles, but we need to find enough to pave at least 600 more miles,” said Fuentes. She further stressed that there are other major gaps in the proposed supplemental budget.
“The highway reconstruction budget has been nearly bankrupt for years now. The current two-year capital plan aims to reconstruct only 46 miles of highway statewide, when we should be doing more than 250 miles. If we ignore the problem during this cycle, we will be in worse shape when Maine and the nation come out of the recession, and that would put us even further behind,” said Fuentes.
The Maine Legislature will be considering the Highway Fund supplemental budget next month. For developments and information, watch for MBTA E-Updates and visit www.mbtaonline.org.