Exposing the worst of the worst. “Worst Road in Maine” contest is our chance to raise public awareness of big transportation problem. By Deborah Dunlap Avasthi
‘We must prioritize like never before.’ MBTA’s Maria Fuentes interviews new MaineDOT Commissioner David Bernhardt.
Simple lessons. What has been learned from the Highway Simplification Study. By Kathryn Buxton
MaineDOT suspends Gateway 1 effort.Multi-year planning initiative suspended.
MBTA launches ‘Worst Road in Maine’ search. Fuentes predicts strong turnout for 2nd annual contest.
Bridges, bonds and what’s good for Maine business. MBTA co-sponsors legislative briefing.
Hews keeps on trucking. By being nimble and creative, Hews Company has thrived. By Kathryn Buxton
D.O.T. View: Prioritizing: Customer service levels. Improving transportation decision-making. By Ken Sweeney, P.E.
Exposing the worst of the worst
Annual ‘Worst Road in Maine’ contest is our chance to raise public awareness of a growing problem
By Deborah Dunlap Avasthi, MBTA President
There’s a contest born of the famous fiction phrase, “It was a dark and stormy night.” It’s called the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, and every year contest judges select the worst first line of fiction entered.
I think of the MBTA’s “Worst Road in Maine” contest in much the same way. While it doesn’t have a fancy Victorian name attached to it, the contest does highlight a similar “worst-of-the-worst” tradition – and unfortunately our contest is all about non-fiction entries. Really, who could make this stuff up? It also has a very serious purpose: to raise awareness of how much bad Maine roads cost Maine people and businesses every day.
The worst of the worst
This year, the second year of the contest, the MBTA expects another good turnout for the “Worst Road in Maine” contest. Last year was a rousing success, and let’s face it, road conditions haven’t improved any since then. Also more people than ever are comfortable with using social media like Facebook and Twitter to voice their opinions about what matters to them.
Last year, the contest earned nearly 1,100 Facebook fans from across the state. It also helped cast the media spotlight on the issue of Maine’s crumbling roads and bridges: that is something we can’t do enough.
To enter the contest, drivers are required to submit a photo of the bad road and a brief description of why the road is so bad. Contest rules and entry forms are posted on a special contest web site (www.FixMaineRoads.org
). Entries also may be submitted via MBTA’s Facebook page (www.facebook.com/FixMaineRoads
). Come see what’s already posted. The winner will receive a $250 gift certificate for car repair – the amount a recent study found Mainers pay in extra vehicle repair costs due to bad roads.
Point, shoot and enter
Personally, I’ve already dusted off my camera (my smart phone). And since 26 percent of Maine’s highways have poor pavement according to the Federal Highway Administration, I expect there will be plenty of worst roads to point, shoot and enter.
You can also read your local newspaper for ideas. The Ellsworth American recently reported “potholes on what seems like every local roadway from High Street and Route 1A in Ellsworth to Route 186 in Gouldsboro and everywhere in between.” The Kennebec Journal wrote that the Portland Public Services department “has been fielding calls about the growing number of potholes on a daily basis.” And in Lewiston, The Sun Journal reported that “virtually every street in the city has got some sort of pothole.”
Then there were the television and radio reports of the behemoth 15-foot-by-two-foot pothole on I-95 in Augusta that caused a five-car accident.
Certainly weather and the time of year are partially to blame. During the spring, Maine has more than its share of “dark and stormy nights” when rain, melting snow and the freeze-and-thaw cycle can turn a passable Maine road into the equivalent of a carnival thrill ride. The fix – a temporary patch in the spring and maybe a thin coat of pavement during the summer, doesn’t solve the underlying problem.
A downward spiral
Maine has thousands of miles of state roads in need of major reconstruction and repair and not nearly enough state funding to get the job done. We are facing a 10-year, $320 million shortfall in highway and bridge funding, so unless we do something soon, today’s 15-foot potholes are certain to become an even greater drain on our economy.
Remember, the average Maine driver spends an additional $250 every year to repair vehicle damage caused by bad Maine roads. That means, all told, Mainers spend more than $230 million dollars a year to repair the damage caused by bad roads. Just think: if we could use that money to fix our roads, not our cars, we wouldn’t have a “Worst Road in Maine” contest!
The Worst Road in Maine contest will end in May. I hope you will take time to post your entry at www.FixMaineRoads.org or www.facebook.com/FixMaineRoads. Be sure to encourage friends, family and co-workers to enter, too. Because only by working together can we convince our leaders in Augusta and Washington that fixing Maine roads and bridges is a priority and an investment in our economy – and in our safety.
As you know, we have a busy season ahead of us. I look forward to working with you to raise public awareness of bad roads and hope to see you at our annual meeting in May!
‘We must prioritize like never before’
MBTA’s Maria Fuentes talks with newly appointed MaineDOT Commissioner David Bernhardt about the role innovation, prioritization and the $320 million funding gap will play in the department’s future.
When you started at MaineDOT, did you ever think you could be commissioner?
As a young engineer coming out of the University of Maine to work for MaineDOT, I was more focused on the engineering and technical side of the department. Being a typical engineer, I thought maybe one day I could be the chief engineer, but even that was a scary thought early on. It wasn’t until later in my career that I had an understanding of what a commissioner did and aspired to that position.
What do you believe is the number one job of Maine’s commissioner of transportation?
To lead MaineDOT to be one of the most trusted organizations in Maine through emphasis on core values of integrity, competence and service.
Is that different than what the number one job was in any of your previous positions with MaineDOT?
In my last two positions – director of engineering and operations and before that, director of maintenance and operations – leading with emphasis on the core values was the same. I was just more focused on the specific duties of the job – most recently, a production and engineering focus, and previous to that, a focus on making our bureau of maintenance and operations a leaner, more efficient organization.
You’ve worked under several different commissioners since you started with the department in the 80s. How do you think your management style will be similar/different from your former bosses?
I see my management style as a mix of the three commissioners with whom I have had the opportunity to work. One might have delegated more than another, whereas another was more hands-on. I would say that, in the past, I would have been one to set the direction and then delegate. I think the future will be a mix of hands-on and delegation, because the new executive office will be leaner than some in the past, with all of the same or more duties.
Do you think there is an advantage to having a commissioner that knows MaineDOT as well as you do? A disadvantage?
There are both advantages and disadvantages to coming up through the ranks of the department for the past 27 years. The advantages are knowing the inner workings of the department, knowing the staff, knowing personally many of our partners and stakeholders, knowing how the financing works at both the state and federal levels, and knowing the state and federal statutes and regulations pertaining to transportation. The disadvantage is that I can’t use “I’m new at this,” as an excuse, and I’m connected to anything that might be interpreted as a failure or mistake.
What innovations will you be proposing to implement at MaineDOT? Have you been following innovations in other states that you believe could be beneficial to Maine/MaineDOT?
MaineDOT, along with its partners, has always looked to innovate and has been a leader in New England and the northeast. Examples are: snow- and ice-fighting technologies; composite bridges; composite fishways; use of different reclamation strategies; warm mix asphalts; use of new asphalt binders; development of state standards and practical design methods more conducive to Maine’s rural nature; design-build and other innovative contracting procedures; our tri-state procurement processes; our “dashboard” or information-sharing system; and much more.
One of the responsibilities of the chief engineer is to establish and maintain engineering excellence through innovation, research and calculated risk-taking. So, we are always looking. We do work closely with, and participate on, many national committees, and we’ll continue to do so, especially with those committees where the results might be getting more done with the funds available.
What are your thoughts about an east-west highway for Maine?
With the improvements to our border crossings with Canada, and continuous improvements to the ports of Searsport and Eastport, it’s important for the economy of Maine that we improve our east-west highway connections. Some of this can be done with improvements to existing corridors or short connections of new construction, such as from I-395 to Route 9. Any new construction of significance would need a funding source other than regular federal and state resources. This would be one where a public-private partnership is the way to go, and these partnerships should become more viable as our economy rebounds.
About the role transit can play in a largely rural state?
Though we are largely a rural state, transit does play a role, and has been successful in our urban centers, as have initiatives such as the Island Explorer and GO MAINE, among others. However, because we are a rural state, transit is not going to work everywhere, and if a business plan shows it’s not viable, we aren’t going to try it just for the sake of trying it. Then again, if the future is five dollars-plus for a gallon of gas, transit could play a much larger role, as the convenience of driving one’s own vehicle is outweighed by the cost, and transit becomes a more attractive mode. This would apply to passenger rail – the Downeaster – as well.
Do you think Maine will find a private partner to help develop a facility at Sears Island and/or Mack Point?
I would hope to think that yes, we will see someone stepping up who sees the great opportunity at Searsport. The department will be doing whatever it can do to get the word out about those opportunities, and we will work closely with whomever steps up with a viable plan.
There has been a lot of talk about efficiencies and whether or not Maine can ‘find’ the money it needs to fix our roads or bridges or whether the funding side of the problem is bigger than possible efficiencies (a $320 million funding gap). You have helped MaineDOT accomplish a lot on this front already. Do you think there are substantial gains yet to be made through efficiencies?
There are still efficiencies to be had within the department as well as employing more of those innovations I discussed earlier that give our infrastructure longer life, lower maintenance costs, and less capital costs for road miles treated. Ultimately, the efficiencies and innovations will solve only a portion of the problem. We must prioritize like never before, and develop realistic goals that are based on the needs of our customers.
How would you describe the state of the MaineDOT budget?
It is interesting to note that even without bonding in this budget proposal, with the money available in capital we will be able to match all anticipated federal funding. By setting priorities, leveraging MaineDOT’s funding with others, sticking to the basics of keeping our bridges safe, preserving what has been improved to date, and improving that infrastructure that will help economic development and quality of life, I’m optimistic that there will be something for everyone in this budget.
What is your favorite stretch of road in Maine? Favorite harbor?
My favorite stretch, that is hard to say, but if I had to pick a few . . . in northern Maine it would be Route 11 from Sherman to Fort Kent, probably because of the many days I’ve spent working to make improvements to that corridor. In eastern Maine it would be Route 9, “the Airline,” across “the Whale’s Back” and through the blueberry fields, or Route 15 through Blue Hill to Deer Isle/Stonington. In western Maine, it would be the scenic vistas of Route 4 to Rangeley, and Route 201 through Jackman to the Canadian border. In southern Maine, it would be Route 1 in early spring or late fall when the traffic is manageable. In midcoast Maine, there is my family’s favorite, Route 32 out through Jefferson and Waldoboro to New Harbor and Pemaquid, where we sometimes spend the day at the beach, hanging out on the rocks near Pemaquid Point Light and eating at Shaw’s Fish & Lobster Wharf in New Harbor, watching the lobstermen bring in their catch.
What do you drive? How many cars in your family? How many licensed drivers? Any pilots or sea captains?
I drive a Hyundai Tucson. Believe it or not, we have five vehicles in the family – mine, my wife’s, one each for my two daughters and, for hauling stuff around, a pick-up truck. If you drive by the house you might think there’s a party going on.
What has been learned – and is yet to be gained – from the Highway Simplification Study
By Kathryn Buxton
Many lessons can be taken away from the recently completed Highway Simplification Study. Foremost is just how difficult it is to change – even when change is so clearly called for by everyone involved.
The study, begun last year at the behest of the 124th Maine Legislature, brought together municipal officials from across the state and MaineDOT personnel to examine how the state and municipalities should share responsibility for nearly 23,000 miles of public roads. The core issue is how to care for a 4,100-mile network of “state aid” highways in an era of decreasing state and municipal funding.
“The whole reason for this study was to look at the problem of minor collectors, because there hasn’t been any capital improvements on those roads for decades,” said Skowhegan Road Commissioner Greg Dore, an MBTA board member. Dore was a member of the study’s Policy Working Group and served on the Standards and Costs Subcommittee.
The problem, as the final study report details, has roots reaching back nearly 100 years, when the Maine Highway Commission (forerunner of the Maine Department of Transportation) tried to help municipalities modernize local roads made impassable by mud tracks from the growing popularity of automobiles.
The result of that early effort to develop the state economy through investments in transportation infrastructure led to Maine’s idiosyncratic “state-aid highway” classification currently in conflict with the federal system of highway classification used by almost every other state in the country.
In Maine, to make the matter of jurisdiction even muddier, the state and towns frequently share responsibility for maintaining these minor collectors or state-aid highways. Towns provide the majority of the winter maintenance. The state maintains the roads in the summer. Subject to funding, they share capital responsibility (one-third paid through local funding/two-thirds from state funding). The study found that this unique system of shared responsibilities has led to unclear roles, finger pointing, operational inefficiency, ultimately resulting in “orphaned roads” and inadequate customer service.
Lesson 1: Change is difficult
This is where the adage about change – even positive change – being difficult comes into play. The effort by the state to migrate to a new highway classification system based on federal designation, naturally raised concerns – primarily in terms of financial responsibility.
Presque Isle Public Works Director Gerry James joined the Policy Working Group precisely so Presque Isle and other municipalities in Aroostook County would have a voice in what many viewed as a controversial study. James joined the committee midway through the process after another Aroostook County official had to step down.
At the outset, James admits to being skeptical about the state turning over responsibility for these roads, many of them deteriorating, to the towns.
“We were afraid that it was another effort to dump maintenance and responsibility on the towns for roads already in pretty rough shape,” said James. “I was not going to let that happen without speaking out.”
Lesson 2: Trust is critical
MaineDOT Deputy Commissioner Bruce Van Note acknowledged that there exists a substantial amount of mistrust of the state by towns, and that this general environment made this a tough time to perform this study. But trust was something that MaineDOT fought hard to earn throughout the process.
“We didn’t approach this as a top-down, take-it-or-leave it situation,” said Van Note. “We looked at it from the point of view that we have a big problem, and in this room, we are a group of problem solvers.”
Van Note said that solving problems is precisely what public works professionals and engineers excel at, and the desire to find workable solutions drove the study process. Much of the nitty gritty of the study was hashed out in the Standards and Cost Subcommittee, a group of 12 officials who looked at maintenance costs for minor collector roads from both a state and community level – in order to establish maintenance standards for those roads. The group surveyed 114 different communities to develop a real-world breakdown of maintenance costs.
In some cases, the data provided some surprising results, said James. Conventional wisdom has been towns could plow snow for less than the state, but when towns looked at the total cost, including depreciation and equipment maintenance, there was only about a $10-per-mile difference.
For his part, James said his trust in the process began to grow, as the group delved into these issues, and MaineDOT’s representatives on the Policy Work Group and its subcommittees listened and responded to municipal concerns.
“What really changed my mind is that the group was willing to work with each community to fix roads to that community’s standard,” said James.
Lesson 3: Aim high
The Policy Working Group tackled some very large tasks, including a re-evaluation of Maine’s Urban-Rural Initiative Program (URIP) and development of a “fix and swap” plan that would have the state take over winter maintenance on about 1,600 miles of state aid major collector highways now done by towns, and return summer maintenance and capital responsibility for about 2,500 miles of minor collector roads to the towns after they have been improved at state expense. The fix and swap elements of this plan make it very different from the “turn back” of roads in the early 1980’s.
That lofty goal, to have roads that are a low state priority be a municipal responsibility because they are more important to local citizens, is a model that almost every other state in the region now follows.
Van Note said, that in many states, jurisdiction over minor collectors falls to either local or county government. That allows those states to focus state resources to roads with a more regional and statewide benefit. For example, New Hampshire has roughly the same level of federal funding, but only has responsibility for 25 percent of roads in the state at $7.04 per mile; Maine supports maintenance and improvements on 37 percent of the state’s roads at $2.72 per mile.
But how to get there? The study group developed an improvement program to fix roads before any swap would occur called MiCHIP (Minor Collector Highway Improvement Program). Under that program, the state would fund improvements to approximately 200 minor collector miles every year over a 12-year period. Once all the minor collector roads were improved in a town, the swap would occur. The state would take over plowing of state aid major collectors, and the towns would be responsible for minor collector roads. That way, one level of government would be responsible for the road year round. Travelers and taxpayers would know who to contact with concerns. The state would continue to help towns with their capital responsibility on minor collectors in the form of ongoing partial funding for light capital pavement (also known as maintenance surface treatment or skinny mix paving). This would lead to greater simplicity, accountability, efficiency, and smoother roads.
So how much would it cost to get there? The up-front state capital investment for improvement of these minor collector roads to the MiCHIP standard would start at about $35 million, and increase about $45 million in year 12 due to inflation. Though substantial, the Study team noted that this would address about 200 miles of some of Maine’s worst roads every year in every corner of the state at a very reasonable per mile cost. That is, the traveling public would likely see value.
Despite the value, the need for capital funding is where the process broke down for some of the officials involved, including Skowhegan’s Dore. He said that one major fault of the study was that it did not address the funding issues at the core of the problem.
“That’s more than $420 million over 12 years,” said Dore, and it was obvious that the state currently does not have that kind of funding for fixing its roads. He also said that the issue of capital funding after the swap was a big issue for towns.
Lesson 4: Focus on the positive
It was the lack of state funding and confusion among communities that did not participate in the study that finally put the brakes on the effort to reclassify or “simplify” Maine’s highway system. While praising MaineDOT for its collaborative approach, the Maine Municipal Association’s policy committee voted not to support the study’s findings, despite strong support of municipal members of the Policy Working Group. Many believe that was because of the lack of guaranteed funding and the broader environment of mistrust of the state by towns.
“The swap could have been sold if there could have been a guarantee of funding,” said James. That guarantee is impossible because mandates cannot be funded from one legislature to the next under state law.
Shifting leadership in Augusta make the future of the Highway Simplification Study uncertain. It was commissioned by the 124th Maine Legislature under a Democratic Legislature and Governor. Now, with a complete change in leadership, it is an inopportune time for any major policy changes, especially those with a hefty annual price tag.
Still, many involved in the study cite less obvious achievements, including improved communications, trust and a willingness to explore more creative solutions that worked for both the state and towns. Dore said that Skowhegan was pleased to see that there was more flexibility among towns and the state to find cost-efficient ways to address everyday maintenance issues.
“I’m hoping it doesn’t stop here,” Dore said, adding that he would like to see a renewed effort to address funding for Maine’s minor collector roads, because they will continue to deteriorate if state and local leaders do not identify new sources of funding. Once Maine finds funding for roads, MaineDOT and the towns should keep the funding coming. “If by chance we find this funding, why end it?”
James said the best thing to come out of the process was a willingness for MaineDOT and towns to look at a more flexible standard for road maintenance. He also cited the commitment at the state level to search for solutions to bad roads across the state – not just in high traffic areas.
For Presque Isle, that would have meant an 82 percent increase in road assistance funding once the 12-year, fix-and-swap MiCHIP program was completed. That extra money was intended to help the community maintain the additional miles of minor collector roads. The sticking point was, and still is, how to consistently guarantee that level of funding.
“The state gets a lot of credit for listening and really making this a cooperative effort,” said James. “The final report was a real compromise, and that is the first time I’ve ever seen that level of collaboration between public works and the state.”
MaineDOT suspends Gateway 1 effort
Maine Department of Transportation (MaineDOT) announced in late February it was suspending Gateway 1, a planning initiative affecting a 110-mile stretch of U.S. Route 1 in Maine’s midcoast. The move was described as a cost-cutting effort.
“Given the significant and growing fiscal constraints under which we are operating, our top priority must be to focus our time and scarce resources on existing short-term critical infrastructure needs — roads and bridges primarily — to the greatest extent possible.”” wrote Bernhardt.
Gateway 1, initiated by MaineDOT six years ago, has been defined as a collaborative effort among 20 towns that lie along Route 1 between Brunswick and Stockton Springs. The goal of Gateway 1 was to plan regionally for land use and transportation and maintain the highway’s role as a regional arterial and economic lifeline while enhancing the quality of life.
As a result of the department’s action, collaboration with the MaineDOT, the Maine State Planning Office and the Federal Highway Administration on road projects have come to an end.
Don White of Camden, and voluntary chairman of the Gateway 1 Implementation Steering Committee, said he and the other municipal representatives on the committee had received a letter from Bernhardt informing them suspension of the Gateway 1 planning process was effective immediately.
In the letter Bernhardt wrote: “Having been briefed by MaineDOT staff about the Gateway 1 planning process, the commitments contained in the interlocal agreement, and the process by which municipalities would approve or reject moving forward with forming a corridor coalition, I discussed this information with the governor and senior staff in the administration. . .We have come to the conclusion that while Gateway 1 has been a very worthy effort, it does not correspond with the immediate priorities of this administration.”
While many of the community leaders involved in Gateway 1 have expressed dismay about MaineDOT’s decision, some local residents are greeting the news as a good thing.
“I’m glad that it happened,” Horatio Cowan of Rockland, an opponent of the plan, told the Bangor Daily News. “It is a radical change in land use regulations. I have a big problem with something that clandestinely tries to do major changes behind the back of the people.”
A March 4 editorial in the Bangor Daily News called the decision “rusty thinking” and suggested the move was ideologically motivated by a small group of residents that feared a “global conspiracy.” The editorial recounted the history behind the project that was to support, not undercut, local decision making: “Gateway 1 was launched as a way to empower locals. Cutting the program is the opposite of respecting the home rule principle.”
Amid the public debate on cutoff of Gateway 1, Adrienne Bennett, a spokesperson for the governor, reaffirmed that the state’s decision to stop funding for the project was to save money.
The Gateway 1 Plan began in 2004, after two earlier protests objecting to MaineDOT’s plans to widen Route 1. The state has spent approximately $2 million on the five-year planning effort. Much of the money was spent on the creation of a detailed “corridor action plan,” completed in July 2009. That plan has won awards, including the 2010 National Award for Rural Smart Growth from the Environmental Protection Agency. It was the first time the award was granted to a Maine project. Gateway 1 also won the “plan of the year” award from the Northern New England Chapter of the American Planning Association.
MBTA launches 2nd annual ‘Worst Road Contest’
Last year’s “Worst Road in Maine Contest” was such a success, we’ve decided to hold it again. Why? If you drive, you know. Maine roads are a mess and something needs to be done.
The purpose of the 2011 Worst Road in Maine contest is to let Maine residents get the word out and encourage state leaders to take action to invest in Maine’s transportation infrastructure.
“A recent study shows that the average Mainer pays $250 a year in added vehicle maintenance costs due to bad roads, but the truth is there is a greater cost in safety risks, reduced mobility and lost business opportunity,” said Maine Better Transportation Association Executive Director Maria Fuentes.
Last year Martha Jordan won top prize – a $250 gift certificate for car repair – when her entry, Route 219 from Turner to Leeds, was crowned “Worst Road in Maine.” Jordan sent in photos and told a compelling story about a bent rim, busted tire, lost wheel bearing and $1,000 repair bill. Hers was one of many entries from all corners of the state. There were so many good entries in the first year, the MBTA named several runners up, as well.
Fuentes predicts that this year’s contest will be another good one because, if anything, many of Maine’s roads are in even worse condition. “We got great publicity last year,” she said. “It was in the newspapers, TV and a very popular page on Facebook – we had nearly 1,100 fans.”
Fuentes encourages MBTA members to urge friends and neighbors to enter.
“‘Like’ us on Facebook and help us spread the word. By tapping into the power of social media, we can raise public awareness of the danger and cost of bad public roads,” said Fuentes.
What’s the worst road in Maine?
DRIVING IN MAINE CAN BE A CHALLENGE. Our state, in fact, has some of the worst roads and bridges in the region: 26 percent of its federal-aid highways have poor pavement. Maine’s bridges, too, need attention and 34 percent of the state’s bridges are deficient, compared to a national average of 25 percent.
Bridges, bonds and what’s good for Maine business
Legislative briefing generates questions and concerns about transportation investments in current administration
At the recent transportation legislative breakfast hosted by AGC, MBTA, Maine Aggregates Association and MAPA, everyone in the room appeared in agreement Maine needs to improve its transportation infrastructure, particularly its roads and bridges.
Opinions diverged when discussion turned to how to pay for it and how much Maine could afford. The event was led by a panel that included Senator Ronald Collins (R-York County), co-chair of the Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Transportation; John Melrose of Eaton Peabody Consulting, MBTA’s senior policy consultant; Herb Sargent of Sargent Corp.; and Jack Parker of Reed & Reed. Ken Grondin, of R.J. Grondin & Sons Construction and AGC of Maine president, moderated the discussion. Senate President Kevin Raye (R-Washington County) also spoke, welcoming the nearly 60 citizens and legislators assembled.
In his opening remarks, Raye touched on several key issues under discussion in the legislature. These include a proposed amendment to the landmark legislation that created the TransCap Fund; tax break legislation for the top income earners in Maine from 8.5 percent to 7.95 percent; pension fund reform for state employees; regulatory reform, a topic that has been the cause celebré of the current administration; and whether there was interest in a transportation bond.
About bonding, Raye intimated that while many including Governor Paul LePage have said new bonding is off the table, there is support for investments that will help create jobs. “Particularly when it comes to improving our infrastructure – roads and sewer – there is a lot of interest in crafting at least a modest bond package,” said Raye.
Senator Collins spoke about the change in leadership in state government and the priorities of the Maine Legislature and of the Transportation Committee of which he is co-chair.
“This is new regime, a new party in control and the priorities are those that are healthy for Maine and healthy for this industry,” said Collins. He said he was committed to “making sure Maine’s infrastructure is the best quality product for the best price.”
Jack Parker of Reed & Reed, Inc. warned legislators present about the mounting dangers of bridges and roads that may look like they are safe but that present a major safety concern for Maine. He told of one Old Town bridge his company rebuilt that literally disintegrated as crews began to work on it.
“Just two weeks before that bridge was carrying cars and trucks – really heavy trucks, in some cases,” recounted Parker. “We have bridges and roads reaching the end of their useful life, and I hope legislators will keep that in mind.”
John Melrose of Eaton Peabody Consulting provided an overview of legislation under discussion with bearing on the transportation industry. He talked of the governor’s budget proposal that includes General Fund support for transportation infrastructure of $20 million in unallocated surpluses at the close of the 2012-2013 biennium.
Melrose also told assembled legislators that a bill to repeal motor fuel tax indexing could be detrimental to Maine’s roads and bridges. He said that the measure, passed nearly a decade ago, has generated nearly $300 million dollars for the Highway Fund and gone to work repairing roads and bridges across the state.
Herb Sargent of Sargent Corp. spoke of how the state’s declining investment in transportation has affected his business, notably at this time of year due to the proliferation of posted roads at a time when commercial construction is just showing the glimmer of recovery.
“Posted roads are a big issue,” said Sargent. “We have jobs that are starting May 1, and we have to stage equipment for those jobs two months ahead of time. I invite any one of you to buy some heavy equipment and then have to park it for two months.”
Sargent also made the case for legislators to provide MaineDOT with a steady source of funding that will enable the department to establish a long-term plan for repairing the state’s transportation infrastructure. “There needs to be some kind of predictable funding.”
Sargent also made the appeal for legislators to think about the legacy legislators will leave behind for their children and grandchildren. He urged them to “walk away with a different legacy than patch and pray. . . figure out what we will need in 50 years, and let that be your legacy.”
Hews keeps on trucking
By being nimble and creative, Hews Company has thrived, creating custom vans and trucks in New England since 1927
By Kathryn Buxton
If you want a top-of-the-line mobile service unit for your fleet of construction vehicles, a snow plow tricked out with the latest computerized equipment or a dump truck upfitted with a telescoping hoist, there are few places in New England to turn. In fact, if you want to adapt a truck for just about any specialized industrial or commercial use, Hews Company’s office and shop in South Portland is the place to go.
The company has been upfitting vehicles – adding aftermarket, value-added equipment – for businesses throughout New England since Roland Hews, a wagon builder, moved his family from Aroostook County in 1927. Hews today operates from two locations: a 28,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in South Portland and a 7,000-square-foot shop in Bow, New Hampshire.
A third generation, Bob and Charlie Hews, grew up in the business and today run the firm their grandfather founded and father Claude Hews built into a regional powerhouse beginning in the mid-1900s.
“This business is a good challenge. It’s creative. We’re able to build something new each time. It’s learning all the time,” said Bob, president of Hews Co.
The South Portland location is the hub of the business. That is where the company headquarters are, as well as a 12-bay garage where Hews employees outfit and repair clients’ custom vehicles. There’s a paint shop and an extensive parts warehouse, as well. Hews outfits trucks for many of the transportation and construction industries’ leading operations: Shaw Brothers, R.J. Grondin and Sons, Cianbro, EJP, Chadwick-BaRoss, Milton CAT, MaineDOT and the Maine Turnpike Authority. The company also builds custom equipment for the forest products industry from papermakers to wood products manufacturers. Look close the next time you see one of Hancock Lumber’s signature red trucks heading down the Maine Turnpike to markets to the south, and you will likely be seeing the handiwork of Hews.
“We build a custom steel truck body for them that is really rugged,” said Charlie Hews, Bob’s brother and executive vice president of the company. “It’s a truck we’re really proud of.”
On a recent warm winter afternoon, the Hews facility in South Portland is gearing up for one of its busiest times: the months leading up to and including the construction and logging seasons. This is also a time when other important Hews customers in landscaping and service are getting ready for the warm spring and summer months. There are six trucks either being built or under repair in the massive garage and more projects expected to come on line in the coming days and weeks. In fact, the Hews brothers expect overall business this year to be better than it has been for a while. Still, they’re guardedly optimistic. Bob recognizes the economic recovery has been a tepid one. “Everyone’s cautious. There’s a gradual coming back, but it’s not a barnburner by any means,” he said.
Nowhere is that more apparent than on the shop floor where, in more robust times, turnaround times were between 40 to 90 days for a truck upfit depending on the size of the job and the equipment that needed to be installed. Nowadays, turnaround times can stretch to 120 days, as more suppliers’ inventories have been depleted and they, like Hews’ industrial clients, have been careful about fully reinvesting until times are more certain.
Challenging economic times are nothing new for the firm that has lived through the Great Depression of the 1930s, the economic boom times after World War II and numerous economic ups and downs since. Hews Company is, in many ways, built like the trucks it builds. Its foundation is strong, its workforce is nimble, and the company has been adept at rolling with the ups and downs life throws at it.
Charlie said Hews Company has seen customers’ focus shift during the past several years, as there has been a fall off in the commercial and residential construction markets (construction represents a significant segment of Hews’ business). As large-scale commercial development has slacked, there has been more competition for smaller projects. Hews has seen a corresponding shift in the equipment that contractors are looking to purchase, including Class 3 trucks upfitted with platform, small dump or plumber bodies. Many of those projects are referrals from local truck dealers that Hews has been doing business with for years. Knuckleboom cranes, that can operate within the confines of a smaller work site, also have been increasingly popular.
The firm also has sold more than 50 snowplows and sanders to state and municipal customers, although with tightening municipal budgets, Charlie expects that market to slow somewhat in the coming year.
“This is a very competitive market,” said Charlie. Still, he asserted, Hews Company has a palpable advantage. “We have allied ourselves with good suppliers, we can respond quickly and we really understand what makes road ready equipment.” In other words, they have the advantage of experience and a reputation for value and service that continues to attract new and loyal customers.
In many ways, times were not so different when Roland Hews moved with his family to Portland from Aroostook County in 1927. It was in the heady days just preceding Black Tuesday in 1929, the day the stock market crashed. Roland had planned on plying his wagon building craft in Portland, but he found that modern motor cars, not horse drawn wagons, were the vehicles of choice in Maine’s largest city. Roland was quick to see an opportunity in converting the motorcars into motorized wagons or vans. He set up shop in the basement of a three-story tenement building on Congress Street, near where the Maine Medical Center complex stands today. There, Roland stripped down early Ford trucks to their chassis and added sturdy oak frames clad with wood or rolled steel – not unlike the wagon frames Hews had built as a young man in The County.
Hews’ new business did well, despite the lean economic times, and the company built a reputation for honesty, value, ingenuity and creativity. In fact, Hews was so skilled, the company was occasionally called upon to fill unusual orders, such as specialty advertising vehicles built to look like peanuts or cameras.
Winds of war
The outbreak of World War II brought change to the business. Roland went to work building Liberty ships for the U.S. Maritime Commission at a shipyard in South Portland. His son Claude served with the U.S. Marines in the South Pacific. After the war, Roland relocated the family business to an old, unheated barn in the Westgate area of Portland. Claude joined the business in 1946, and the Hews built a 40-by-120-foot Quonset hut to house the business on St. John Street in Portland.
According to Charlie, it would be more than a decade before there was a mass producer of commercial vans and trucks like a General Motors, and that left a growing niche market for Roland and his son.
“No one was making vans for the mass market back then, you had to buy local,” said Charlie. There was no interstate highway system, and computers were not yet a part of everyday business. Transportation logistics – the science of shipping large quantities of goods and supplies across long distances – was still in its infancy. Instead, there was a lively homegrown delivery industry, and custom vehicle fabricators like Hews served that business.
At the core of the growing concern was a brisk trade in van bodies for the fast-growing, post-war economy. Their chief customers were local manufacturers and service businesses including Jordan Meats and Congdon Transportation, a firm that delivered newspapers to local drop-off locations for a small army of newsboys that delivered papers to subscribers. Whatever the business, every truck was different, and Hews found ways to custom outfit the trucks to suit each customer’s special needs. For example, Hews installed doors on the side of the Congdon Transportation vans, so delivery men could toss the newspapers from the van as they drove their route. Hews also was the first company in Maine to build and sell refrigerated van bodies. Those were popular with food manufacturers and beer distributors. Hews was also the first aftermarket dealer to build all-aluminum frame truck bodies.
For a while, Hews also sold school buses and became, according to Charlie, the largest distributor of school buses in New England. The company grew fast and at one time occupied several buildings on St. John Street and employed a staff of 30. With the company bursting at the seams, Claude made a bold move. He purchased a tract of land in a new business park on Rumery Road in South Portland and moved the firm there in 1966. The company has expanded its operations there several times.
Most recently, Hews has helped customers adapt trucks to accommodate new emissions reduction equipment required by the government on all commercial vehicles.
Keeping it in the family
Hews Company has remained in the family since it was founded. Today, a third and fourth generation of Hews family members run the company. Brothers Bob and Charlie joined the company in the early 1970s. Bob had been playing professional football for the Kansas City Chiefs after graduating from Princeton University. Charlie had been a psychology major at Bowdoin College before transferring to the University of Maine at Orono, where he graduated with a degree in business administration. Charlie calls his brother, Bob, “The Philosopher,” a fitting moniker for the individual who has led the company since 1985. If Bob is “The Philosopher,” Charlie is “The Engineer.” While he regrets not getting an engineering degree, he certainly thinks like one and he takes great pride in helping put the increasingly complex components together that go into each new truck Hews builds.
Both brothers have plenty of help from their close-knit family. Ingrid Hews, Charlie’s wife, works in purchasing; Katy Hews, Bob’s wife is marketing manager. A fourth generation has also joined the firm: Drew Hews, Charlie’s son, is manager of the Bow, New Hampshire store; and Bob’s stepdaughter Elizabeth Harrington works in the South Portland office.
The creativity that has served the business so well throughout the many changes in the industry is still evident today. Hews continues to take on each new challenge with gusto. That is, perhaps, because no matter how complex the equipment and technology becomes, the goal remains the same as it has been for the past 84 years, according to Bob: “We can build a truck body and put whatever the customer needs on it.”
Prioritizing: Customer Service Levels
By Kenneth L. Sweeney, P.E., MaineDOT Chief Engineer
In the last issue of Maine Trails, Deputy Commissioner Bruce Van Note described new tools for prioritizing project candidates for MaineDOT’s Capital Work Plan. This approach uses highway corridor priorities (HCP) and customer service levels (CSL) to allocate scarce resources. It uses customer-focused engineering measures to track highway safety, condition and serviceability, and communicates them in a simple grading scale similar to high school report cards (A – F).
This approach improves transportation decision-making, with:
- emphasis on safety and customer satisfaction instead of compliance with national design standards;
- replacement of old terminology for unbuilt roads (i.e., “backlog”) with objective measures of roadway strength and reliability;
- outcome-based measures as opposed to output (results vs. number and types of projects);
- enhanced transparency and accountability;
- a unified methodology to benchmark current conditions, predict future conditions, examine differing CSL goals, and estimate costs.
The previous column discussed Highway Corridor Priorities in some detail, but only touched on CSLs. Now, let’s examine CSLs in greater detail. CSLs are engineering-based measurements used to determine A – F grades.
Customer service levels
We’ve adopted the following grading scale: A is “excellent”; B is “good”; C is “fair”; D is “poor”; and F is “unacceptable.”
CSLs and their component measures are structured as:
Paved Roadway Width
Each measure has its own score, and each category can be “rolled up” into three overall CSLs. Everything is GIS-based and mapable, allowing our staff to visualize corridor and/or segment CSLs as they develop programs and projects. A description of each measure follows.
Crash history: This measure includes the two types of motor vehicle crashes most likely related to the highway – head-on and run-off-road crashes. The A – F scale compares these crash rates with the statewide average.
Pavement rutting: This measure looks at wheelpath rutting, since excessive rutting holds water and contributes to hydroplaning and icing in winter. The A – F scale “set points” vary by HCP, and are based on hydroplane tests.
Paved roadway width: This measure compares total paved width (lane plus shoulder) with minimum acceptable widths by HCP (not new design standards). If a highway segment fails this minimum, the Safety CSL for that segment is decreased one letter grade.
Bridge reliability: This measure is also pass/fail. If a highway segment contains a bridge with a Condition Rating of “3” or less (excluding non-overpass decks), the Safety CSL is decreased one letter grade. These bridges are safe, but may require increased inspection or remedial work that could affect traffic flow.
Ride quality: This measure uses the International Roughness Index (IRI), which is expressed in inches per mile of deviation. IRI is the nationally accepted standard for passenger comfort, and the A – F scale varies by HCP.
Pavement condition: This measure uses the Pavement Condition Rating (PCR), a 0-5 scale that is composed of IRI, rutting, and two basic types of cracking. The A – F scale varies by HCP.
Roadway strength: This measure uses the results of the falling weight deflectometer, a device that estimates roadway strength.
The A – F scale is uniform across HCP, since even low-priority roads must support heavy loads in Maine’s natural resource-based economy.
Bridge condition: This measure converts the 0 – 9 national bridge inventory (NBI) condition ratings to an A –F scale; it is uniform across HCP.
Posted road: Each year, MaineDOT posts more than 2,000 miles of road during spring thaw to protect their longevity, but some posted roads directly affect Maine’s economy. Any segment that is typically posted gets a D for Service.
Posted bridge: Similar to posted road definition, any segment that contains a bridge with a specific weight restriction gets a D for service.
Congestion: This measure uses the ratio of peak-traffic-flows-to-highway-capacity to arrive at an A –F score for travel delay. Peak summer months are specifically considered to capture impacts to Maine’s tourism industry. This scale is uniform across HCP, since tourist travel is system-wide and sitting in traffic affects customer service similarly on all roads.