We need a bond because we need jobs. Now is the time to invest. By Randy Mace.
Keeping the door open.
Last year, the Maine Legislature passed on sending a bond to voters. Will that change in 2012?
What’s on their minds
Talking about transportation with Senator Ronald F. Collins (R-York County) and Representative Wayne R. Parry (R-Arundel). By Maria Fuentes.
The Maine Legislature discusses a feasibility study for a privately funded east-west toll highway.
Economic index red flags transportation.
Annual economic report says we need to invest an additional $150 million by 2015.
Economist Charles Colgan talks about the recession, recovery and a revolution in Maine’s transportation.
What’s the worst road in Maine? MBTA kicks off annual contest.
Driving through history
John T. Cyr & Sons celebrates 100 years of business. By Kathryn Buxton.
National organization cites Charlotte employees’ community service.
Let’s not stifle the port’s future
A recent moratorium could have had negative implications for Maine. By Capt. David Gelinas.
We need a bond, because we need jobs
By Randy Mace, MBTA President
Simply put, we need the Maine Legislature to pass a transportation bond before this session is up. Why? Because we need the jobs. While there are signs of an economic turnaround, the truth is Maine has been leading the region in the numbers of jobs lost over the past year. And while the losses have been felt by almost every sector of our economy, the construction industry has been hit hardest.
That is true not only in Maine, but nationally, as well, where construction unemployment is hovering at a shocking level – about 18 percent in January, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
As a result of a lack of investing in transportation and other critical infrastructure, Maine’s construction industry has suffered disproportionately throughout the recession. Overall, according to a recent analysis by the Maine Center for Economic Policy (MECEP), Maine lost the more jobs per capita of any state in the nation during 2011. According to the center’s report, based on U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, only six states lost jobs in 2011. At -1.2 percent, Maine’s loss was the greatest. That same report showed that the construction industry has continued to hemorrhage jobs, despite signs of an economic turnaround. Approximately 1,600 Maine construction jobs were lost in 2011.
What can turn things around? Investments in transportation. The fact is, for every $10 million we invest in our transportation infrastructure, we create and/or support 270 jobs. In other words, construction jobs bring other jobs.
Last year, public concerns about bonding were high, and Governor LePage and the Maine Legislature rejected several proposed bond packages. Several of those bills are back up for consideration by the legislature this session, and it appears that legislative sentiment is turning in favor of a bond to help kick start our economy.
This year several Maine lawmakers have signaled they plan to develop a bond package with a core piece for roads and bridges, to send to Maine voters for approval in June or November.
Door to bond ‘ajar’
We hope that ultimately Governor LePage will support an infrastructure bond. The Associated Press has reported that the governor is “not actively considering a bond package but ‘the door’s slightly ajar.’” That’s a quote from the governor’s spokeswoman, Adrienne Bennett, who went on to say: “The governor believes we need to be in a healthy fiscal state before we take on more debt.”
Truth is, Mainers are a prudent bunch and our fiscally conservative approach to debt in recent decades puts us in good stead for a transportation bond. We retire our debt in just 10 years, earlier than most other states.
According to a report last year by MECEP, Maine’s economic good health shows in two critical debt measures. First, the state’s debt service is well below the long-established 5 percent threshold for general obligation bonds as a percentage of General Fund and Highway Fund revenues. Second, Maine’s tax supported debt per capita is $865, significantly less than the national median of $1,066.98. Further, Maine’s tax supported debt as a percentage of personal income is 2.4 percent, again significantly lower than the national median of 2.8 percent.
I know many of you know firsthand how hard it is to lay-off a person that has worked for you and maybe even alongside you, not because they don’t do a good job, but because there is not enough work to go around. You understand what a job means to someone you’ve gotten to know, someone whose family you know, someone you know does good work and deserves a chance.
We’ve all seen how job loss in general has affected families on our streets and in our towns. We’ve seen it at the store and at church. And we know that Maine could be doing so much more to help give people a leg up.
For years, voters have overwhelmingly supported transportation bond investments, understanding not only the benefits but also the critical importance of these investments.
It’s our belief that a transportation bond would put more Mainers back to work, creating a ripple effect that would strengthen local businesses, help provide an infrastructure system that businesses could depend on, and make for a healthier Maine. Ultimately, though, it’s up to the people of Maine to decide. And it’s up to us to tell the legislature and the governor to let the people vote on this critical issue. Please let your legislators know you support a transportation bond, and urge them to, as well.
Finally, I would like to say thank you to everyone who has supported our advocacy efforts so far this year by letting your voices be heard by Maine lawmakers and to members of our Congressional delegation.
I have enjoyed talking to you at our MBTA meetings, at legislative events and look forward to seeing you at our annual meeting in May!
Keeping the door open
For two years now, legislative leaders have talked about the need for a transportation bond, and transportation bond proposals remain active in Appropriations. Still the question is this: will they come to a consensus before session’s end?
By Kathryn Buxton
In late February, the Maine Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Appropriations and Financial Affairs heard public testimony on a number of proposed bond bills, including seven proposals for funding highways, bridges, rail and port infrastructure. Even before the hearing, there was ample discussion of the need for increased investment in the state’s transportation infrastructure from legislative leaders and members of the transportation community.
Well before this session began, leaders were vowing to make a bond package a priority. House Minority Leader Emily Cain (D-Orono) told the Bangor Daily News in October 2011 that Democrats in both houses were concerned about declining state investment in its aging infrastructure.
“When we look at the type of work that didn’t get done, it was primarily around investment in our infrastructure and our economy,” Cain said. At the end of the 2011 session, the MaineDOT two-year budget had taken a $220 million hit due to declining revenues. That funding gap was subsequently narrowed by approximately $104 million due to competitive construction bidding in the 2011 construction season and a more optimistic outlook on federal transportation. Still, with capital infrastructure spending reduced by more than $60 million this year, many are concerned about what effect rough roads and aging bridges will have on Maine’s long-term economic outlook.
At the time of Governor LePage’s State of the State address in January, other legislative leaders also were urging prudent infrastructure investments, including Senate President Kevin Raye (R-Washington County) and Senate Minority Leader Barry Hobbins (D-York County).
“There seems to be openness all around but we don’t want to go hog wild,” Raye told the Portland Press Herald in January of this year.
From 26 bills to 10
Among the 26 bills on which the Appropriations Committee heard testimony, there were seven transportation bonds. Those bills ranged widely from a $200 million bond proposal to pay for construction of a container port on Sears Island to three different rail bonds, to a $1 million proposal to fund road improvements in the town of Woodstock. Only 10 bond proposals currently remain in play. Of the 10, two are highway and bridge bills: L.D. 894, a $62 million General Fund bond introduced by Senator Diamond; and L.D. 1395, a $50 million proposal sponsored by Representative Richard Cebra (R-Naples). A third bill, L.D. 851, which calls for $25 million for commuter, freight and tourism rail infrastructure, also remains on the committee’s list of proposals still under consideration, as well as bond proposals for research and development, environmental, education and water/sewer infrastructure.
The committee will resume its debate after the state Revenue Forecasting Committee issues its outlook for the coming year and the Maine House and Senate finalize negotiations on the state budget. Those negotiations have been particularly challenging this year, given concerns over projected shortfalls at the Department of Health and Human Services.
Also crucial for a transportation bond to pass will be support from Governor LePage’s office. Whether there will be support remains an open question. The governor’s spokesperson, Adrienne Bennett, told the Associated Press last month that the governor is “not actively considering a bond package but ‘the door’s slightly ajar.’”
Representative Patrick Flood (R-Winthrop), co-chair of the legislature’s Appropriations Committee, noted that interests rates are low, and added the committee remains open to sending a carefully considered bond package to voters if leaders decide it is feasible.
“We haven’t closed the door,” said Flood. “We kept it open last year when we kept the 26 bills and now, with 10 still active, we’ve kept those bills alive awaiting direction from our legislative leaders.”
Representative Cain said her party continues to be in favor of sending a “targeted bond package” out the door to voters. “Democrats firmly believe public investment is critical for immediate job creation now and for long-term job growth in the future,” said Cain. “We support a targeted, responsible bond package that will create immediate construction jobs and set our state on the path for future economic growth. . . We must pass a bond package this session to help get our economy on track and help put more money in the pockets of working people.”
Making the case
Many in Maine believe that a bond package that includes capital transportation investments would be good for the state, as its economy continues to struggle through the recovery. During the Appropriations Committee hearings, legislators received testimony from individuals, businesses and organizations about the profound need for investment in Maine’s transportation system. Rob Kenerson of the Bangor Area Comprehensive Transportation System (BACTS) talked about the mounting need for repairs and reconstruction in his region that go back nearly two decades, a need that outstrips available funding.
“We have three significant corridors totaling over 3.5 miles needing significant reconstruction at an estimated cost of $12 to $14 million. One of these corridors does not meet the modern construction standards set in the 1950s,” said Kenerson. “The planning on this corridor began before I became the BACTS director 17 years ago. We have been able to construct one-half-mile pieces of this corridor every two to four years. We are not even halfway in reconstructing this corridor. The delays have been due to limited transportation funding.”
MBTA President Randy Mace spoke from personal experience on how the cuts have impacted the construction industry.
“We have struggled mightily these last few years, as demand for our products has fallen by over 60 percent during this period. Our work force today is half what it was five years ago and the remaining workers have experienced pay cuts in the 15-20 percent range. All of these realities of today’s construction environment have had a negative effect on the health of Maine’s economy,” said Mace. He also talked about how Maine lags other states in its General Fund contributions to highway and bridge repair.
“Maine is in a tough spot. On average, other states depend on their General Fund to the tune of 17 percent to fund highway and bridge improvements,” said Mace. “In Maine, there is no consistent General Fund participation in capital construction for roads and bridges.”
Leaving a bad impression
Many, including representatives from the tourism industry, talked about how their industries are negatively impacted by bad roads.
Rick Soules of John T. Cyr & Sons, the tour bus company, spoke about how bad roads leave a negative impression on tourists and impact their decision to visit again. “[Our] tour buses are very expensive and very comfortable, but a road saturated with potholes makes for an uncomfortable experience for the passenger. Suddenly, the scenic coastline or mountain views are forgotten and the bumps in the road are what are remembered,” said Soules.
His concerns were echoed by Carolyn Manson of the Maine Tourism Association: “Maine’s tourism market is primarily a ‘drive market,’ meaning the overwhelming majority of our visitors travel to Maine in their vehicles using our highway system to get to their destinations . . . They need and expect a well-maintained transportation system.”
What makes sense
Geoff Herman of the Maine Municipal Association urged legislators not to allow recent efforts to prioritize road repairs mask the crushing need for increased transportation investments in the state.
“Lowering the road improvement standard may help MaineDOT reduce the deficits it faces on paper and more fairly manage the funds it expends across the wide spectrum of roadways and bridges it is responsible for repairing, but at the end of the day the quality of Maine’s roadways will decline,” said Herman.
He also laid out a trifecta of facts that support transportation investments on the state level – unmet need, low interest rates and voter support.
“Municipal bond yields are at near historical lows. According to the Bond Buyer 20-Bond General Obligation Index, the current borrowing rates are at their lowest average in the last 40 years,” said Herman.
“By our count, since 1951 the state has sent to the voters 25 ‘general’ transportation bonds (i.e., those not including single site specific proposals) totaling $996 million. In that 60-year period, voters approved all but one, authorizing $973 million in investments on road and bridge projects.”
Some of the most compelling testimony came from Steve Whitcomb of H.O. Bouchard who appealed to legislators’ common sense.
“I am a very conservative Mainer. I am careful with borrowing money. I do not think it prudent to borrow money for something like gasoline that will be consumed in one day, but paid for over 30,” said Whitcomb.
“I do believe in borrowing as necessary to acquire and maintain long-term assets. Financing a car for four years that will last for 10, or financing a house for 30 years that will last for 100 is sound business. Financing a bridge with a 50-year lifespan makes sense. Letting it fall down does not.”
As the legislature heads into its final days and weeks, leaders on both sides of the aisle appear open to sending a transportation bond to voters.
“My personal feeling is there should be an infrastructure bond,” said Assistant Majority Leader Andre Cushing (R-Hampden). He noted that even in tough financial times, “we have an obligation to maintain our highways and bridges.”
For Cushing, it’s a matter of how much funding. He said that there remain several issues to be resolved as the Appropriations Committee and full legislature take up bonding – including the decision that “this is what we feel we can afford.”
Transportation advocates agree that many factors will play into the legislature’s final decision on bonding.
“We’ve heard from many behind the scenes that they are in favor of a transportation bond bill, and we are anxious to work with them,” said MBTA Executive Director Fuentes.
She noted that state debt levels are low, and Maine traditionally is very careful about the transportation borrowing it supports with funds dedicated to long-term investments in bridges, highway reconstruction and capital investments in port and rail infrastructure.
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.
Legislature votes to study feasibility of a private East-West highway
The dream of an east-west highway has long been a public darling in Maine, but the quest to find state and federal funding for the project has proven elusive. Enter Cianbro President Peter Vigue and a plan to build a private east-west toll road.
That plan got its day in the headlines on February 14 when Vigue and other proponents of the toll highway testified before the Maine Legislature’s Joint Committee on Transportation in favor of L.D. 1671: Resolve, To Require the Department of Transportation to Facilitate and Oversee a Study of the Feasibility of an East-West Highway. The bill calls for $300,000 to fund an independent feasibility study facilitated by MaineDOT. The study will analyze traffic and revenue “to assess the feasibility of a privately funded, privately operated and publicly accessible east-west highway.” The bill was sponsored by Senator Doug Thomas (R-Somerset).
The public hearing was heavily attended, evidence that the proposal for a private tollway connecting Maine ports and cities with destinations in Canada, the Midwest and beyond is gaining attention from both supporters and detractors. Maine’s Governor Paul LePage is one of the proposal’s fans.
It has been estimated that it would cost $1-2 billion to build the 230-mile toll road.
Vigue for years has been the project’s fiercest advocate. He told the committee he believes that such a transport project could make Maine “the northeast trade gateway,” creating a quicker link between the Maritimes and Quebec and upstate New York, serving as an asset for companies that transport goods from Maine and Canada to other parts of the country. Additionally, says Vigue, the link would create growth in Maine’s “hollow middle” and would give tourists a quick way to reach northern and downeast Maine.
Vigue told the committee that many of Maine’s chronic economic challenges originate with the perception that there is lack of access to markets to Maine’s west and east. Our problems, he said, “are a matter of perception internally – and externally. The view is that we are at the end of the road, that we’re isolated, we have ice and snow, and if that doesn’t get you, the bears will.”
Among those testifying against the bill were environmental advocates, such as Chris Buchanan, an organizer for Defending Water for Life in Maine. Other detractors cited the budget shortfalls and questioned the wisdom of making the investment in a private venture when the state is cutting services to the poor.
Still, the yay-sayers took the day, and two days later, on February 16, the committee voted the bill out with eight members voting for the measure and five – all Democrats – against. Democrats on the committee had hoped for another week to clarify details regarding the scope, timing and whether $300,000 would be enough to accomplish the study’s goals.
“We just wanted a little more time to gather information,” said Senator Bill Diamond (D-Windham) who cast one of the dissenting votes. “We don’t know if $300,000 is enough. We’re not sure of the timing because this is not an emergency bill. We just wanted until next week to figure these things out.”
“This could create thousands of jobs over several years,” said Representative Richard Cebra (R-Naples), House chairman of the Transportation Committee. “There are investors already lined up; they really deserve a study they can have confidence in.”
The bill was amended in the House to include a provision to have the developer repay the state for the cost of the study if the project moves forward.
The revised bill passed in both the Maine House and Senate and was to be signed by the governor by press time.
FMI: To learn about the status of L.D. 1671 and other transportation related legislation under consideration by the Maine Legislature, visit www.mbtaonline.org and follow the links to “Pending Bills” on the MBTA’s Advocacy page.
Measures of Growth red flags transportation infrastructure in Maine
The annual transportation index notes that an additional $150 million in current capital funding will be needed to meet goals for the state highway and bridge network by 2015.
The annual report notes that an additional $150 million in current capital funding will be needed to meet goals for the state highway and bridge network by 2015.
The Maine Economic Growth Council (MEGC) has once again found Maine’s investment in its transportation infrastructure lacking. That is according to its 2012 Measures of Growth report recently issued that highlights and awards gold stars and red flags to 25 economic measures. MEGC Co-chairs, Senator Chris Rector and Tim Hussey, president and CEO of Hussey Seating Company, presented the report to legislative leaders and the governor’s office on March 6.
This year, only two of the measures received gold stars: international exports and the cost of energy. Five measures, including transportation infrastructure received red flags, highlighting the need for action in order to improve Maine’s economic climate.
In earlier reports, the MEGC has tracked a composite chart called Maine’s Roadway Deficiency Index measuring the percentages of pavement in poor condition, structurally deficient bridges and other measures of road condition. Some of that data was unavailable this year. Consequently, the council this year decided to track management of and investment in the state’s highway system based on highway corridor priorities (HCP) and customer service levels (CSL) – a performance measure system being introduced by MaineDOT to help the agency manage Maine’s roadway assets.
The MEGC measure focuses on MaineDOT’s Priority 1, 2, and 3 roads because these roads represent 19 percent of all public ways and carry 70 percent of all traffic in the state. These roads are the primary links of Maine’s economy and carry the majority of all passenger and freight transportation, while lower priority roads primarily serve local traffic. The MEGC said the state goal is to have all Priority 1 and 2 roads meet a fair or better rating for safety, condition, and service by 2022, and for all Priority 3 roads to meet this standard by 2027.
The MEGC has adopted benchmarks for 2015 consistent with these goals. Currently, 68 percent (1,588 miles out of 2,351 total miles) of Priority 1 and 2 roads score fair or better for safety, condition, and service. The MEGC ’s benchmark is that 81 percent, or 1,906 Priority 1 and Prioirty 2 miles, meet this standard by 2015, meaning 318 road miles must be improved over the next three years.
The MEGC ’s benchmark for Priority 3 roads is for 70 percent to meet the fair or better standard by 2015. Currently, 57 percent of Priority 3 roads meet the standard; meeting the benchmark requires the improvement of 249 miles. Priority 1, 2, and 3 roads need more intensive pavement treatments, an increase in highway reconstruction of two to three times current levels, and a continuation of current efforts to reduce the relatively large inventory of bridges needing repair or replacement.
MEGC notes in the Measures of Growth report that an additional $150 million in current capital funding will be needed to meet those interim goals for the state highway and bridge network by 2015. The MEGC found economic conditions, the repeal of motor fuel tax indexing, and improved vehicle fuel efficiency (that translates into lower revenues from gasoline taxes) undermine Maine’s Highway Fund and concluded Maine would have to reconcile the shortcomings of the existing funding regime and decide whether to meet the state’s highway investment goals through user fees, General Fund revenues, or a combination of the two.
Laurie LaChance, director of the Maine Development Foundation, the nonprofit organization that oversees the MEGC , said “no one indicator tells the whole story.” Also found wanting were research and development expenditures. Maine’s R&D expenditures as a percentage of gross domestic product was only 1 percent in 2008, the most recent data available. MEGC reported the goal is 3 percent, which would bring Maine in line with the national average. The New England average in 2007 was 4.7 percent.
Senate President Kevin Raye, R-Perry, said those two categories—infrastructure and research and development— suggest the need for a “modest” bond package that could go out to voters later this year.
FMI: To view the full 2012 Measures of Growth in Focus, visit the www.mdf.org.
Economist Charles Colgan talks about the three Rs – recession, recovery and revolution
For the past several years, Dr. Charles Colgan has stopped by the MBTA’s annual Cumberland County meeting to deliver a forecast for the economy – specifically Maine’s transportation economy. At this year’s meeting on March 8 in South Portland, the economist could proclaim with certainty that the recession is over and the recovery is underway and what should be next on the agenda is a revolution.
“This is an important time in transportation,” said Colgan in his address to more than 100 MBTA members and friends, exhorting those in the audience to look beyond the daily business of budgets and bonds to formulate a vision for the future that addresses Maine’s shifting demographics, climate change, increasing fuel economy and declining fuel tax revenues.
Colgan offered a quarter-by-quarter glimpse of the bumpy road to recovery over the past 12 months – a promising first quarter followed by lackluster performance during the second and third quarters, and a fourth quarter gain of 2.5 – 3 percent, that appears to bode well for 2012.
“The consumer is starting to come back, and we had fairly robust performance and GDP growth – if we don’t screw it up,” said Colgan. As for the first months of 2012, he added, “It hasn’t gotten worse, but it definitely hasn’t started to get better yet.”
He said that it would likely be 2015 before Maine returned to pre-2008 employment levels, a timeline that will be better than some areas of the country, but worse than others. And he predicted that construction recovery would continue to be slow, but steady as the glut of housing built during the boom was absorbed by the market. Colgan also noted that others have been more sanguine about the prospects of an accelerating recovery – including Moody’s. “We’ve been more pessimistic about the New England recovery than Moody’s, and frankly, we’ve been right,” said Colgan.
Colgan discussed the effect of increasing gas gasoline prices, noting that consumers are unlikely to let prices dampen their enthusiasm for a recovery. That may change if prices hit $5.30 per gallon or oil rises to $300 per barrel.
He also noted the recovery has offered some surprises. While economic activity has been strongest along the I-95 corridor in York, Kennebec, Penobscot and Cumberland counties, Waldo County growth has surpassed other areas in the midcoast. He also said federal spending is at lower levels than many may suspect. Government spending during the Reagan years far outpaced spending by the current administration in inflation-adjusted dollars.
Prelude to change
All that tepid if upward trending economic news was merely a prelude to the heart of Colgan’s message for the evening: now is the time for a revolution in how we plan, power and deliver transportation in the future.
The first revolution is a demographic one, he said, and will happen as the population ages and begins to shift away from outer ring communities toward urban centers. That will put pressure on already stressed urban transportation systems (both highway and transit) and demands a change in how we keep people mobile and connected.
Power to the revolution
The second revolution, he said, will result from climate change and the effect a warmer, wetter atmosphere will have on transportation systems in areas near rivers and coastal lands like Portland’s Back Cove. He said that the temperature shift will impact Maine’s roads and bridges and cause “potential damages in the hundreds of millions of dollars.”
The third wave will come as Maine and the nation develop new ways to power transportation. Colgan spoke of the early days of the automobile when steam, electric and diesel engines were first developed and the gas-powered internal combustion engine rose to prominence. He said a similar race in technological innovation is on, now that new Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards are slated to go into effect in 2025 raising the fuel efficiency on automobiles to 55 mph.
“This obviously has some major implications,” said Colgan, noting that we will need new infrastructure – such as electric charging stations – and new funding sources to offset the resulting 34 percent decline in fuel tax revenues.
“Ready or not, here it comes,” said Colgan, adding that this shift will bring even greater changes that we need to prepare for by “rethinking our entire transportation system.”
Getting down to business
Of course, there was MBTA business to dispatch, as well, and MBTA Vice President Doug Hermann served as the evening’s emcee. He welcomed members and guests to the meeting, one of five regional forums hosted by the MBTA every year. He introduced several notable attendees and guests, including legislators Senator Tom Martin (R-Kennebec and Somerset), a former MBTA president; Representative Jane Knapp (R-Gorham); and Representative Paulette Beaudoin (D-Biddeford).
Hermann also talked of MBTA’s advocacy efforts at both the state and national level to address “a crushing need for transportation investment,” noting that discussions in Augusta have included the possibility of sending an infrastructure bond out to voters. He said “now is a good time to borrow” because Maine’s debt levels are low and the need is high.
The program concluded with the 50/50 drawing. Grant Maxwell’s ticket was pulled from the entries, and he won half of the raffle’s proceeds ($196), while an equal share went to support the MBTA Educational Foundation’s Scholarship Fund.
‘Worst Road’ contest underway
3rd annual contest asks Mainers to tell how bad roads impact their daily lives
The MBTA’s annual “Worst Road in Maine Contest” has become a sure sign of spring. As the weather warms and potholes spring up on local roads and highways like crocuses in garden, we ask Maine drivers to consider the impact potholes, ruts and cracking pavement have on their every day life.
The contest kicked off in late March and will continue until May 15 at midnight. The purpose of the contest is to raise awareness of the personal cost of bad roads, whether it is in increased vehicle maintenance costs, safety risks, lost travel time or other impacts.
In some cases, the cost is measurable, according to Maine Better Transportation Association Executive Director Maria Fuentes: “A recent study shows 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, lost mobility and business opportunity.”
Last year, Carol Kelley of Waldo sent in the winning entry – Routes 131, 137 and 141 in Waldo County. She wrote about how rough roads made travel to the doctor and school painful for her son who has a spinal rod. The family had to invest $1,000 in special springs to help ease the ride. Entries from Aroostook, Cumberland, Hancock, Lincoln, Kennebec, Sagadahoc and Washington counties also were recognized among the runners up.
Currently only 68 percent of major state highways meet MaineDOT standards of fair or better for safety, condition and service. Only 57 percent of Maine’s Priority 3 public roads meet that standard. According to estimates of the 2012 Measures of Growth report by the Maine Economic Development Council, Maine needs to spend an additional $150 million to begin to meet state targets for road condition and service levels.
FMI: The 2012 Worst Road in Maine contest ends on May 15 at midnight Eastern Time. No purchase or payment of any kind is necessary to enter or win this contest. To enter, please complete a contest entry form and submit a photo at www.FixMaineRoads.org. For full contest rules and other information, visit www.FixMaineRoads.org
Driving through history
From horse drawn wagons to modern coaches and school buses, Cyr Bus Line travels through history into an elite club of 100-year-old Maine businesses
By Kathryn Buxton
It’s midday at Cyr Bus Line, and about a dozen drivers in black company jackets are gathered, waiting for the next wave of activity to begin. That’s when the company’s fleet of school buses head out to pick up students for the trip home from Old Town’s high school, middle school and three elementary schools. A fresh layer of snow covers the ground outside, and everyone is alert and ready to get to work. Outside, a coach bus pulls in to the lot, returning from its daily run to Aroostook County. The bus will be washed down and ready for its 6 p.m. departure from downtown Bangor.
It is a scene that has played out countless times over the past 100 years since John T. Cyr and his son Joseph founded the company on South Water Street in 1912. Previous to that, John had been working for the Jordan Lumber Company in Old Town. Joseph had been working for the Old Town Woolen Mill. They applied for a trucking license and were approved by the Old Town city council on May 21, 1912. John and Joseph had two horses and the company’s first jobs were hauling lumber for Old Town Canoe. The Cyrs also operated a livery stable at the family homestead on French Island (also known as Treat-Webster Island), and for many years, the Cyr stable was the go-to place if you needed a horse and buggy to visit friends or family. The company’s wagons and carriages also delivered mail and served as hearses, transporting local citizens to their final resting place.
Fathers and sons
John T. Cyr & Sons, Inc./Cyr Bus Line celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, putting it in an elite group of Maine companies that have been in business for a century or more.Old Town Canoe, located nearby in Old Town is one. Another is the famous outdoor retaler L.L. Bean, which Mike Cyr is quick to point out, is also celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.
“Cyr Bus is a fixture here,” said Mike Cyr, one of a fourth generation of Cyrs to work in the family business. “A lot of people figured we had already been here for 100 years.”
For the Cyrs, a century of company history is inextricably meshed with the family history. Through the years many family members have left their mark on the business. Four of John’s five sons – Joseph, Albert, Arthur and Harvey – worked for the company in its infancy (Clibby, a fifth son who worked in the woolen mill, eventually became an Old Town firefighter). Albert, 19 and a weaver at the Old Town Woolen Mill in 1912, was a silent partner for many years, coming on board full-time as the business continued to grow through the 1920s. Arthur and Harvey, young children when their father and brothers founded the company, grew up in the business and eventually joined their brother Albert in running the company in the 1930s and 40s after their father and brother died unexpectedly in 1934. Harvey bought out his brothers in 1951.
Today, the company is run by Harvey’s son, Joe Cyr. His brother, Pete, works in the company’s body shop. Joe’s son, Mike, oversees the company’s coach division and manages information technology – everything from the company’s two-way radio system to its computer hardware and software. Daughter Becky Whitmore is the bookkeeper. Helping them these days, is general manager Rick Soules, who the Cyrs hired not quite two years ago. Bringing Rick in was a necessity as the company has grown and diversified, and as Joe, now 71, has begun to scale back the time he spends at the office.
Working with family has always been one of the great joys of the business, according to family patriarch and company president, Joe Cyr, with the business officially for nearly 50 years. Joe drove trucks for H.E. Sargent and worked as a surveyor for James W. Sewall during the summers before coming to work at Cyr with his dad. His memories of working alongside family go even further back – to being with his dad in the office when he was six or seven, driving a company truck when he was 11 and washing buses as a kid. At 15, he was driving buses for the family concern. He also found time to get his degree from Old Town High School and a year of study at University of Maine at Farmington and another year and a half at Husson College. He left school and joined the company full-time in 1962 when a cousin who had been the company bookkeeper died. For a while, Joe was not only the bookkeeper, he served as the company mechanic, secretary and payroll clerk. In just a few years, Joe was running the company, and after his father Harvey died in 1967, he bought the business from his mother for $25,000.
Looking back, Joe said he has never regretted the decision to spend his professional life at the helm of the family firm and he always has considered himself honored to work alongside his father, son, daughter, brother and cousins.
“Frankly, I feel pretty darn lucky,” said Cyr talking from his winter home in Daytona Beach Shores, Florida where there is a small community of Old Town snowbirds. Joe started heading south in the winter 10 years ago, but he still maintains close contact with Mike, Rick Soules – Cyr’s general manager – and others via phone and e-mail several times a day. And he reels off facts about the business in quick-fire fashion.
How many vehicles in the company fleet? “250.” How many coaches? “22.” How many square feet at the company’s headquarters? “We’ve got about 20,000 under cover there,” said Cyr, stopping only to calculate the many expansions they have made at the 10-acre site since 1980.
Milestones and challenges
The company has lived through good times and bad. There was 1934 when the family’s two male patriarchs died – John in May and Joseph in August. There were also two devastating fires at the company’s headquarters on French Island. The first was in the early 1950s and the company garage and its full fleet of eight buses were destroyed. The second fire hit in 1970, destroying the company garage, an apartment over the garage and one bus. In both cases, the family and employees came together to get buses back on the road quickly.
There were good times, as well. Nineteen hundred and twenty-two was an important landmark. That was when John and Joseph Cyr helped usher in the era of the automobile. They bought the company’s first motorcars – Studebakers – to transport Old Town children to school. Four years later, after housing the company fleet at several different locations in Old Town, Cyr consolidated its operations at a single location on French Island. The area was growing, and by the early 1930s, cars were no longer large enough to transport all the students traveling to Old Town schools from Stillwater and Gillman Falls. So the city asked Cyr to buy a bus.
Cyr also had a taxi service, begun soon after the company’s founding, as well as freight hauling and storage services. By the late 1930s, brothers Albert, Arthur and Harvey were also operating a regular bus service connecting Old Town, Great Works, Milford and Bradley, with special runs to locations including Trenton and Green Lake.
By the mid 1940s, the company’s regular motor coach routes had expanded to include Old Town, Eddington, North Brewer and Bangor. The company also operated a limousine service, and during the war transported German prisoners of war for the U.S. Government to detention camps in the rural reaches of the state.
In the late 1950s and early 60s, Harvey, now head of the company, expanded its stake in the school bus business. By 1962, Joe had joined his father, Harvey, in the business full-time, and John T. Cyr & Sons boasted a fleet of 12 buses, several cars and two dump trucks at its headquarters on French Island.
In 1976, Joe purchased the fleet of Pinecrest Bus Service, the company that had been providing school bus service to the city of Brewer (two years later, Cyr bought Pinecrest’s lot and garage). Then, Cyr bid for the contract to serve the Bangor school system in 1978. They won the business. The ramifications were enormous for the small family-run firm. It required purchasing more than two dozen new school buses at a cost of about $17,000 each. It was one of the few times since Joe had taken the helm they had to borrow money, but it was, Mike recalled, a calculated risk his dad felt he had to take.
“He figured if he didn’t do it, one of the big guys would come in and take the business,” said Mike. That year, there was a 60-cent-per-gallon run up in fuel costs which caused several anxious hours for the Cyrs. At the time, fuel for buses was purchased by the bus company. Now, it is common for school systems to purchase their own fuel, and Joe Cyr said that adds more stability to contracts. Still, it all worked out well. “I still hate to borrow money, though,” admitted Joe recently.
Perhaps the biggest milestone came when the city was in the midst of a two-decade effort to redevelop French Island that had, over the years, become increasingly overcrowded. As a result, Cyr moved its headquarters across the river to its current location at 153 Gilman Falls Avenue in Old Town in 1980. Long-time local residents can still remember the day in late October when the company’s fleet of buses made their way across the bridge from the island to Cyr’s new home on Gilman Falls Avenue.
Over the years, the Cyrs have also been active in the community. The business has been a long-time member of the MBTA where Joe has served as a board member. Joe was for several years president of the Bangor Chamber of Commerce during the 1980s and has sat on several boards, including St. Joseph’s Hospital and Merrill Merchant Bank. The family was a major contributor to the Cyr Family Field House at the Old Town-Orono YMCA completed in 2001.
Close at hand
In 1984, Cyr took over the Aroostook County route, operated by Bangor & Aroostook Railroad (B & A) since 1957 when the railroad had ceased service to The County. The same day B & A shuttered its service, Cyr bought the firm’s coach bus and hired its driver. Passengers didn’t miss a day of service. Today Cyr continues to run the daily transportation lifeline to the county, connecting Bangor, Caribou, Fort Kent, Houlton, Howland, Limestone, Oakfield, Orono, Madawaska, Mars Hill, Medway, Presque Isle, Sherman and Van Buren. (The service, considered an essential transportation link, receives an operating subsidy from MaineDOT.) A Cyr bus departs Bangor every afternoon and makes the return trip from Presque Isle every morning.
In 1990, the company purchased Northstar Tours and began offering charter tours throughout the country and to Canada as Cyr Northstar Tours. In 2003, Cyr purchased Maine Line Tours & Charters, a South Portland-based division of Peter Pan Bus Lines. The move made John T. Cyr Maine’s largest charter operation, and in 2004, the company was honored as Metro magazine’s tour operator of the year. Nonetheless, the long hours and splitting energies between operations in Old Town and Southern Maine took its toll. The Cyrs sold the South Portland charter operation in 2007.
“It was profitable,” remembered Mike of the decision to sell. “But we just weren’t comfortable being in two places at one time.”
Today the company operations have become increasingly complex, with three divisions and increasing federal regulations regarding hours of service for the company’s long-distance drivers and expanded environmental requirements on buses. At the same time, this year, the Cyrs estimate, their buses will log more than 3 million miles. Mike describes the Cyr philosophy as one that has grown from his dad’s unique combination of conservative fiscal approach, a hands-on understanding of the business and a willingness to step up when someone presents a challenge. Much of their business – in both the school bus and tour charter divisions – comes to them through word-of-mouth. “My dad hardly ever says ‘no,’” said Mike. “Someone asks us to do something, and we figure out how to get it done.”
“We could have grown a lot more,” said Joe. “Instead we take what comes and do the best job we can. We’re not trying to be the biggest.”
NAPA honors Lane’s Charlotte crews for community service
Workers at Lane Construction’s Charlotte asphalt plant in Washington County have won the National Asphalt Pavement Association’s 2011 Community Involvement Award.
The company’s Polar Bear Dip team raised more than $1,900 for the Ronald McDonald House by jumping into the icy Atlantic in February.
Workers raised thousands more for causes including the Relay for Life and Down East Hospice. They also took part in Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge’s annual clean up, as well as in the spring cleanup of the Charlotte Cemetery.
“We are located in one of the most poverty-stricken areas in Maine, and our employees love to come together and give back,” said Margaret Cheney, the plant’s assistant office manager. “Lane tries to be a neighbor in our communities. Our employees, their wives and their children always look forward to the next event; it’s a big family atmosphere that brings everybody together.”
Lane also bought and assembled new basketball backboards, rims and nets for Charlotte Elementary School and purchased new softball and cross-country uniforms for its athletes. Employees also bought a new book for each of the school’s 30 students.
The Bangor Daily News reported that one project Charlotte Elementary students wouldn’t likely forget was Lane’s “Gutter Party,” held at the school in 2011. Lane employees filled a 12-foot-long gutter with ice cream and toppings, allowing students and family members to concoct their own sundaes.
Let’s not stifle our port’s future
On March 10, Searsport residents voted against a moratorium that could have had negative effects far beyond the industrial port district located at Mack Point.
This moratorium was about much more than one project, however; it was about future control of the port. Many of the same individuals and groups now fighting development on Mack Point were instrumental in negotiating the much-heralded Sears Island Agreement that promoted industrial development on Mack Point instead of Sears Island.
When it meant keeping industry off the island, no one voiced any concerns about increased truck traffic, volatile cargoes, cutting trees or impacts to the viewshed that new development at Mack Point could potentially bring. Now that a proposed project is poised to use much of the remaining available land at Mack Point, it would appear that port opponents have a new strategy: keep industry off Sears Island by saying there is ample space remaining on Mack Point, then oppose new development on Mack Point to ensure that space always remains “available” there, rather than developing Sears Island.
As just one of many individuals who depend upon the port for their livelihood, I am acutely concerned about our region’s future and what this moratorium could have done.
Consider the struggling Millinocket area, where private investors have spent tens of millions of dollars to revitalize the forest-products industry, largely by diversifying into the manufacture of high-quality wood pellets. These pellets are in great demand in Europe, and the most cost-effective way to move them is by rail to a port facility, where they are normally stored in tall silos built specifically for that purpose, before being loaded into ships.
Searsport is the closest rail-connected port to Millinocket. The other rail-connected option for shipping this product is the Canadian port of St. John, N.B. Had the referendum passed, it would have sent a clear signal to these investors about which community may be more likely to support new development and growth in maritime commerce, and which one may not.
In 2005, Maine enacted “working waterfront” legislation, seeking to protect Maine’s fishing industry from the pressure and friction spurred by residential real estate development. Sadly, no such program exists to preserve Maine’s “industrial” waterfront, which occupies far less than the 20 miles of fisheries related waterfront cited in this legislation.
Maine’s industrial waterfront comprises less than 0.25 percent of the state’s 5,300 mile coastline, yet port opponents claim that growth of industrial development on such a small percentage of our coast will irreparably harm the environment and the tourism industry.
However, as ship traffic into the port of Searsport has steadily increased, so has tourism into the midcoast region. Acadia National Park visitors spent $186 million in 2010, and many of those visitors came via Route 1 in Searsport, and they will continue to do so despite additional growth at Mack Point.
Similarly, the increasing number of ships calling in Searsport has had no adverse effect on the growth of the yachting industry, or the sustainability of the lobster industry. In 1996, the Maine Lobstermen’s Association understood that ship traffic was increasing, and it supported the creation of a recommended route for deep draft vessels on Penobscot Bay, a model for vessel-routing now in place from Maine to New York. Last year we set the record for Maine lobster landings, a large percentage coming from the valuable and productive Penobscot Bay fishery.
Port opponents persist in making unsubstantiated claims that industrial development is detrimental to tourism, fishing, recreational boating and the real estate industry, but the recent history of Penobscot Bay and the port of Searsport demonstrates otherwise. Residents can support tourism and maintain the town’s historic role as a center of maritime commerce by voting no on the anti-port moratorium.
FMI: This column was reprinted from the Bangor Daily News. Captain David Gelinas is a harbor pilot on Penobscot Bay and is president of the Searsport/Bucksport Chapter of the Propeller Club of the United States.