Legislative session = success!
By David Bernhardt, P.E.
We started off the legislative session in January knowing what we needed to accomplish; knowing what we needed to deliver our work plan. We had two major hurdles to cross before we would have the necessary funds to deliver the work plan: a shift in the State Police funding, and the enactment of $100 million bond. Following the legislature’s late August actions, I can now report that we have successfully crossed those hurdles and are ready to get to work. This is a big win for Maine and represents a highly successful legislative session.
It is MaineDOT’s mission to responsibly provide the safest and most reliable transportation system possible, given available resources. Policymakers determine the amount of those resources. MaineDOT then does the best it can with what it has by stretching available dollars to focus as much as we can on product, as opposed to process, and to prioritize.
MaineDOT publishes a three-year, calendar year-based work plan early in January. Reliability is essential. Our engineers and staff depend upon it, the Maine companies that bid on our projects depend upon it, and the Maine people – our customers – depend upon it.
Over the last three or so years, we have been able to deliver our proposed work plan with 90 percent accuracy. A reliable work plan needs reliable funding.
The $1.81 billion work plan MaineDOT released earlier this year is comprised of $953 million in highway and bridge capital and was created based on the assumption that the decades-old State Police funding formula would finally be accurately adjusted and Governor LePage’s proposed $100 million bond would be enacted.
State Police funding formula fix
The first of these two funding problems were addressed with the enactment of the Highway Fund and General Fund budgets earlier this summer. The ratio of funding for the State Police was appropriately adjusted to more accurately represent the work that they do – 65 percent General Fund and 35 percent Highway Fund. The Highway Fund most recently paid for 49 percent of the State Police, and decades ago it reached nearly 87 percent. This adjustment results in approximately $6.5 million more for MaineDOT from the Highway Fund each year. It puts to rest the decades old debate and represents a major win for Maine’s infrastructure.
Recognizing the need for a transportation bond, the Maine Legislature met for a special session in late August. As the very last action of the special session, the House and Senate passed Governor LePage’s $100 million transportation bond. The House vote was 114-7. The Senate vote was 32-0. Given the size and unprecedented flexibility of this bond, this legislative action represents a tremendous vote of confidence for MaineDOT, one we are certain we can live up to. The voters will consider this bond as Question 3 on the November ballot, along with four other bond measures totaling $49.5 million.
This is the plan
The transportation bond consists of $76 million for highway and bridges statewide to be used as follows:
· $44 million for highway improvements on our Priority 1, 2, and 3 highways;
· $5 million for our Municipal Partnership Program; and
· $27 million for bridge reconstruction and rehabilitation.
· The bond allocates $24 million for multimodal investments. Although the language does not specify how it must be used, we currently plan to disburse funds this way:
· $9 million for property acquisition, rail connectivity and site preparation at the International Marine Terminal;
· $4 million to support the working waterfront at the Port of Portland including dredging and capital improvements at the Fish Exchange;
· $3 million for other port and freight intermodal improvements statewide that could include the need to address an aging breakwater in downtown Eastport and preservation of freight rail service;
· $1.5 million for the Industrial Rail Access Program (IRAP) – a 50-50 public-private investment program by which Maine businesses team-up with MaineDOT to improve freight rail connections;
· $4 million for passenger-related investments including transit bus replacement and passenger rail dependent upon federal grant applications;
· $1.5 million for assistance in matching Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) funding; and
· $1 million for the Small Harbor Improvement Program (SHIP).
Again, this is a plan. Actual disbursement of bond proceeds for multimodal may change somewhat so that we do not strand bond proceeds if projects are not ready-to-go due to permitting, public opposition, engineering or other technical challenges, etc. Nobody likes “stale bonds.”
The incredible success of this bond being enacted and sent to the voters, the shift in the State Police funding, and the near unanimous support of our $613.6 million FY14-FY15 biennial Highway Fund Budget will enable us to deliver our projects with reliability and predictability. These votes represent a significant vote of confidence in MaineDOT’s planning process and abilities. We can certainly count this past session as a highly successful one for Maine’s infrastructure.
Now, let’s get to work.