When MBTA members get together this holiday season, let’s remember how much we can accomplish when we work together
The days between Thanksgiving and the New Year are some of the busiest on the calendar. We shop, we party and we travel – a lot. This is also a time when MBTA members come together at the annual Maine Transportation Conference and Holiday Meeting in Orono. While both of those events come at a festive time, this year especially, they have a serious undertone as we look ahead to the challenges facing us in the New Year.
Those challenges are many and to start, there is a clear lack of funding: a $720 million structural gap in the Maine Highway Fund and a looming deficit in the federal Highway Trust Fund.
We have an aging inventory of over 300 bridges in need of rehabilitation or reconstruction, an aging fleet of public buses in need of replacement and an aging population that will be placing new demands on our transportation infrastructure. Nearly half of our state’s highway miles (3,800 out of 8,400 miles) have yet to be constructed to modern safety standards.
We have a new generation of vehicles that are greener and leaner – but that is putting the viability of our Highway Fund at risk. Greener and more fuel efficient cars, while good for the environment, are not so good for our roads and bridges, because they mean more miles driven and fewer gas taxes paid to take care of our roads and bridges.
We also have a new governor and legislature that promise a major shift in priorities on the state level. One of the first orders of business for our newly elected officials will be addressing a $750 million General Fund shortfall and another $720 million structural gap in Maine’s Highway Fund during the next two years.
At the federal level, we are still waiting for Congress to vote on a new surface transportation authorization. It has been 14 months since the last multi-year authorization expired (the Safe Accountable Flexible Efficient Transportation Equity Act or SAFETEA LU). With funding coming from a series of short-term continuing resolutions, MaineDOT and other state DOTs have been hobbled in their efforts to address long-term maintenance and improvements. The big question for 2011 is whether the new Congress and Maine Legislature will bite the bullet and address the transportation funding shortfall on either the state or federal level.
How to face all of these challenges will undoubtedly be on all of our minds as we get together during the coming weeks. Are we ready for a new era of belt tightening? Are we willing to make critical investments in our infrastructure? What can the MBTA do to keep our critical transportation infrastructure in the forefront – and a priority – for the public and our elected officials?
If there’s one great benefit to belonging to an organization like the MBTA, it is having a collective sense of history that puts difficult times like these into perspective. This year, we celebrate the 60th Maine Transportation Conference and it is the 71th anniversary of the founding of the Maine Good Roads Association (that’s what the MBTA was called before 1983 when we expanded our mission to incorporate air, rail and marine transportation).
Looking back over the years, we can see that this is not the first time that transportation in Maine and the nation have faced tough times. Nor is it the first time that MBTA members have come together to make transportation better, safer and more efficient for Maine.
There were the late 1930s, when this organization was founded and the state struggled to improve its road system without dedicated funding for its highway program. Then there were the 1970s, when the country faced the OPEC oil embargo that quadrupled gas prices and hastened the country’s decline into an economic recession. During those tough times, our members worked to advance innovative, practical solutions that would benefit all of the citizens of Maine.
There have been the triumphant times, as well, including the signing of the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 that created the interstate system and the 2007 passage of L.D. 1790: An Act to Secure Maine’s Transportation Future. During those good times, our members have been there in the forefront fighting for positive change, because we understand that a safe, efficient transportation system is an essential building block for a stronger economy.
So, as we get together this holiday season, let’s remember how very vital transportation is to all of us. We need modern aviation, highway, port and rail systems to move our people efficiently and ship Maine products to markets around the world. We rely on good roads and bridges to take us where we need to go safely, whether it be to work, school – or a family holiday celebration.
MBTA wishes to congratulate Governor-Elect Paul LePage on his victory in November.We look forward to working with him, with his administration and with all the successful legislative candidates as well. As always, MBTA stands ready to work with the Governor and the Legislature to forge solutions to our critical transportation infrastructure needs.
I look forward to seeing and working with you this holiday season and into the New Year. Because when we come together, we can accomplish great things for transportation in Maine.