What’s on their minds
Transportation Committee Co-Chair Senator Ron Collins and Representative Wayne R. Parry talk to MBTA’s Maria Fuentes about user fees, bridges and ‘The Worst Road in Maine’
Maine Trails: The Highway Fund budget enacted last year by the Maine Legislature has less funding for capital highway and bridge projects. Do you support continuing to reduce the amount of funding available for capital highway and bridge projects?
Senator Ron Collins: I am in favor of spending every available dollar through savings within the department, and Commissioner Bernhardt has done an excellent job in that effort. We need to look at other ways to save money, perhaps through privatization and finding efficiencies wherever we can. The MaineDOT has been experimenting with privatizing sanding and plowing in the winter and mowing in the summer. We should privatize wherever it is practical.
Representative Wayne R. Parry: No.
Maine Trails: Most states provide General Fund support for transportation investments, in fact, at a national average of 17.65 percent of the total General Fund budget. In Maine, there is no consistent commitment of General Fund monies to support transportation infrastructure, despite the large role transportation plays in the economy by generating sales and income tax revenues. Do you think that should change?
Sen. Collins: Yes, definitely.
Rep. Parry: Yes, I do.
Maine Trails: The last few work plans have been partially funded by general obligation bonds and GARVEE (grant anticipation revenue vehicle) bonds, but the current work plan has neither. Do you support passage of a transportation bond this session to make critical capital improvements to highways, bridges and other modes? What about a GARVEE bond for highways and bridges?
Sen. Collins: Yes, I would support a general obligation bond, provided the General Fund pays the interest. We have done that in the past, and it has worked well. But before doing that, I would need to look at our overall indebtedness to see if it is warranted. The long and short of it is that we need new revenues. A GARVEE bond is another issue and we should have a conversation with the current administration, and possibly advise them, once we have studied it.
Rep. Parry: I am for any bonds that are repaid from the General Fund. It is important that any funding for transportation infrastructure be new money, as opposed to just pushing out payments by having to pay interest. In other words, I believe the General Fund should pay the principal and interest costs, as opposed to having it come from the Highway Fund.
Regarding GARVEEs, it is the same thing. All the current bonds are just taking money from current revenues since money has to be budgeted for those payments. I would rather pay as we go, whenever possible, as it is more fiscally prudent.
Maine Trails: In the past, public investment in infrastructure has been a way to jump-start the economy during difficult economic times. Do you think that model still works today?
Sen. Collins: Yes, I do.
Rep. Parry: Yes.
Maine Trails: Knowing we have to set priorities on where to spend our limited transportation dollars, where are the best places to spend those limited dollars?
Sen. Collins: I think those limited dollars should be spent on the priority guidelines set up by MaineDOT in their highway corridor priority list. We need to pay attention to those major primary roads in their plan – that is where the emphasis should go. Those roads carry the most people from home to work and school, and they also accommodate our visitors in the summer.
Rep. Parry: We have so many road and bridge needs, that is where the dollars should go. I don’t like the add-ons since our citizens and our businesses most need the roads and bridges.
Maine Trails: Maine was recently ranked 12th worst in the nation for the condition of our bridges. Do you think finding a way to fix our bridges should be one of our priorities?
Sen. Collins: Yes, I believe it should. In many cases we actively should be having a dialog with our federal representatives in Congress and asking them to access federal funding for our bridges. They have been cooperative in the past and came up with partial funding for the Memorial Bridge in Kittery. But we do need more, and it is incumbent on us to work with them to secure those funds.
Rep. Parry: Yes, we need to be sure bridges are a priority; they are critical safety projects that connect our communities.
Maine Trails: If you could request the federal government to fund one transportation project in Maine, what project would that be?
Sen. Collins: The three bridges in Kittery and Portsmouth – they are the gateway to our state – and to commerce.
Rep. Parry: The Sarah Long Bridge.
Maine Trails: The gas tax was originally designed as a direct user fee but has lost a lot of its buying power in the past 30 years. Do you think user fees are a good way to fund transportation?
Sen. Collins: I do. I also think we should take another look at tolling bridges and highways.
Rep. Parry: Yes partially. I think there needs to be more General Fund money because a lot of the tax dollars that are brought in currently go into the General Fund, not the Highway Fund. The Highway Fund should be receiving some of those funds.
Maine Trails: Rail is seen as an effective way to move freight – and people. Do you think Maine should be finding ways to increase investment in this mode of transportation?
Sen. Collins: Historically, Maine has been a strong supporter of rail lines but we have relied heavily on federal dollars, working with our congressional delegation and I think we should continue that effort.
Rep. Parry: Most of the rail lines in this state are owned by private entities, and the more private investment we have in our rail infrastructure, the better.
Maine Trails: We have an annual contest called “The Worst Road in Maine.” If you were entering this contest, which road would you choose to enter? Why?
Sen. Collins: There is a section of Route 1 in Wells which hasn’t had any attention in probably 15 years, and it needs attention because drivers have to swerve to dodge holes in the road. My understanding and my hope is that it will be resolved this year.
Rep. Parry: The River Road from Westbrook to Windham; part of the road has been fixed and another part has been treated with maintenance surface treatment. I would like to see this particular section reconstructed.