Voting for better roads
By Douglas Hermann, MBTA President
In this issue of Maine Trails, we have our eye on the November 6 ballot – particularly on Question 4, the $51.5 million transportation bond. While Mainers have voted overwhelmingly in favor of every highway transportation bond since 1969, we can’t afford to rest on our laurels, just assuming this bond will pass. We need to get out the transportation vote because there has been some concern around borrowing in the recent past. And when it comes to transportation bonds, that concern is undeserved.
The truth is transportation bond issues are an excellent way to make investments in jobs and in Maine’s future. This bond is no exception. First, there are the matching funds to consider. If passed, the bond dollars will match $105.6 million in federal, local and private matching funds. That is a two-to-one return on investment – a return any one of us would welcome in our own businesses.
The biggest return will be in federal matching funds for roads and bridges. The bond calls for $41 million to repair and reconstruct Maine highways and bridges, and that will be paired with another $72 million in federal matching funds – for a total of $113 million. That portion of the bond also will be responsible for creating or sustaining more than 3,100 family wage jobs, according to the Federal Highway Administration.
Even bigger rates of return will come from other transportation investments in the bond. The $1.2 million in the bond allocated for transit will bring another $9 million in federal matching funds to help replace our aging transit fleet and facilities. The $6.5 million to be invested in our port facilities at Eastport and the channel at Searsport and Mack Point will bring $10 million in federal funds and another $2 million in private matching funds. The $1.2 million for Maine’s airports will add another $10.8 million in federal funds, and $1 million for rail will spur $1.5 million in private investment through the popular IRAP program (Industrial Rail Access Program).
The bond also calls for $300,000 for the LifeFlight Foundation for helipads in rural areas, and that has a one-to-one match that will come from local government.
What I feel are the most important returns are those that are harder to measure, but equally important. They are the dollars we spend to make our roads and bridges safer, improve our quality of life and brighten our future.
Let’s face it; the cost of not voting YES on 4 will have an even greater impact. It could cost lives because it will set Maine back in its efforts to rebuild its roads to modern safety standards. Who wants to think of their children or grandchildren riding to school on a narrow, bumpy, pothole-filled road? Or of police, ambulances and fire trucks diverted because of an aging bridge that cannot bear the load?
It also could cost thousands of jobs for Mainers in all walks of life. Think of truckers who have to spend more time on the road and hundreds of additional dollars in fuel because of rough roads. Then there are the businesses that decide to locate somewhere else because the cost of getting their people to work or their products to market is just too great. We can’t afford not to invest.
And what about the missed opportunity of borrowing funds for long-term projects at a time when interest rates are at a historic low? What about putting projects out to bid at a time when engineering and construction companies are desperately looking for work – so that they can keep their people employed? What about the savings to taxpayers of borrowing money at a time when much more work can be done for less?
Although Governor LePage has said he will put bonds off until the state lowers its debt levels, we hope that we can work with him to move forward on transportation investment. A savvy and experienced businessman, the governor knows that investing in our infrastructure at a time that debt service and construction costs are at historic lows, helps companies reduce their transportation costs. We know that he is committed to decreasing costs for Maine businesses. We must work with him to build support for more transportation investment, and we look forward to working with him in the next legislative session.
Voters have supported transportation bonds by wide margins. They know why transportation is important to their daily lives – it is a bread and butter issue for them. A safe, efficient transportation system is essential to the well being of the people of Maine and our economy. But it is up to us to get this message out.
So thank you in advance – to all our members who will help us get the word out about the importance of investing in transportation construction at a time when taxpayers are guaranteed to get a great return on their investment.
I would also like to thank our board, volunteers and members for their generous support and hard work that made our Fall Convention a great success – we had a wonderful time in Portland and saw a strong turnout (you can read more about it in the next Maine Trails). And again, I look forward to working with you to get out the vote in support of Question 4.