Where are we now?
By Thomas Gorrill
So where are we? It’s an age-old question and a good one. It’s a question that not only lets you reflect on how you’re doing, but where you would like to be and how to get there. For organizations like the MBTA, the next logical step is to revisit our strategic plan – that is, update the organization’s road map. These days, where that will take us, promises to be interesting.
Before we talk about the plan, however, I want to say thank you to everybody who helped get Question #3, the transportation bond, passed on November 5. I know that many MBTA members and others took the time to talk to their friends, families, and co-workers about the need for a transportation bond. Some of you also wrote guest columns, letters to the editor, or provided information about the bond in mailers to employees or co-workers. While transportation bond votes have historically passed, it is difficult to predict how voters will react at any one time. Over the past quarter century, transportation bonds have passed with a vote as low as 58 percent (2010) and a high of 78 percent (1997). Back in 1991, six out of seven bonds on the statewide ballot failed, with the transportation bond being the only one that passed.
In addition to everyone who talked it up or wrote letters, we were grateful that Rick McCarthy of the Mayors Coalition invited us, as well as many other groups, to participate in a press conference promoting all five bonds. Similarly, we worked with AGC and the Maine State Chamber and others on a press conference by Washington D.C.-based The Road Information Program (TRIP) detailing Maine’s 50 biggest transportation challenges. Special thanks to the International Marine Terminal in Portland and to H.O. Bouchard, Inc. in Hermon for allowing us to use their facilities for that event.
Being a public agency, MaineDOT didn’t take a position on the vote, but they certainly worked hard to put the package together with the Governor and legislators, and also provided critical information about which projects need funding. MBTA also had help from many other organizations who joined the coalition we spearheaded, and who used their networks to spread the word about the importance of getting to the polls on November 5.
So again, thank you. The $100 million in money – along with matching funds – that will be infused into our transportation system couldn’t have come at a more critical time. There are pressing needs in every corner of the state, and for every mode of transportation. If this bond had failed, MaineDOT would have been forced to cut tens of millions of dollars from its work plan, and gotten even further behind.
Passing the bond took considerable time and effort from many groups. Now, we can move on and focus on the upcoming legislative session. We also will be updating the MBTA’s strategic plan. I believe that a good place to start, as we enter this process, is to look at where we’ve been.
The last time MBTA did a strategic plan was in 2006-2007. That effort was led by then-MBTA President Tim Folster and left us with a valuable tool that has kept MBTA on track and moving forward.
These are challenging times, and I feel it is important to make an update to the strategic plan. It is a goal of my administration as MBTA president. I firmly believe we need a new road map, because the road ahead for us is foggy at best. We face tight federal and state budgets, limited resources and shrinking fuel tax revenues. We need to explore new ideas for taking care of our vast transportation network – one of the largest in New England. It’s time for a reality check.
Last time around, the MBTA came away with three strategic goals: make new friends; do our homework; and be more active. I think we have done a good job of living up to those goals. We have identified several partner groups and organizations that share common goals and formed strategic alliances. The bond coalition was an example of that. We have completed more research in order to increase our base of funding knowledge. We have called on members to become more active in the organization and to join members at events in their communities and throughout the state.
There are different schools of thought on how to best engage in strategic planning. A traditional approach is espoused by longtime strategy experts, the TCC Group: “A strategic plan is not a wish list, a report card or a marketing tool. It is certainly not a magic bullet or a quick cure for everything that ails an organization – especially if the plan winds up on the shelf. What a strategic plan can do is shed light on an organization’s unique strengths and relevant weaknesses, enabling it to pinpoint new opportunities or the causes of current or projected problems. If board and staff are committed to its implementation, a strategic plan can provide an invaluable blueprint for growth and revitalization, enabling an organization to take stock of where it is, determine where it wants to go and chart a course to get there. A strategic plan cannot succeed unless it is derived from a clear vision of what the organization will look like at a specific point in the future.”
So, as we move forward, the board will look at the association with the same mix of common sense and strategy that we employ at home and in our businesses, and we will ask ourselves the same question we ask ourselves every day: What’s next, and what’s the best way to get there?
I look forward to seeing you at the next two big MBTA events – the Maine Transportation Conference, Thursday December 5 at the Augusta Civic Center (co-sponsored by MaineDOT and the Maine Section, ASCE) and the MBTA Holiday Meeting, Thursday, December 12 at the Black Bear Inn in Orono. The Holiday Meeting will feature a presentation on our Fix It Now! campaign, a grassroots effort we have undertaken to help spread the word about the need for more funding. Also at the meeting, we will introduce many of our scholarship recipients, a great group of students who will be tomorrow’s transportation leaders.
Please join us.