No slowing down
As MBTA turns 75, slowing down is the last thing on our minds
By Tom Gorrill, MBTA President
For those of us in the better transportation business, there’s no thinking about slowing down – even if we are celebrating our 75th year in existence. I mean, what would we do? Retire? Not in the picture. Working for better transportation is what gets us up in the morning, makes for a purposeful day and helps us sleep at night.
MBTA came into being in 1939 and, the way we see it, the road ahead is endless. That’s because transportation is so vital to our state’s future. When we first started, we were coming out of the Great Depression. Today, we are emerging from the Great Recession. Back then the state highway system had fallen into dangerous disrepair through poor maintenance and neglect. The group of business and civic leaders who formed what was then known as the Maine Good Roads Association was concerned about how Maine was going to finance modernization of its infrastructure, so Mainers could get around and stay connected with the rest of the country.
Sometimes it seems like the more things change, the more they stay the same. But the fact is, much has changed. What hasn’t changed is our pride in knowing what’s ahead is infinitely doable. You see, we’ve had a long history of achieving the seemingly unachievable.
We advocated heavily for the passage of a constitutional amendment assuring that the state Highway Fund would be protected and used only for transportation. It was passed in 1944.
In 1941, we played a role in seeing An Act to Create the Maine Turnpike Authority passed and the subsequent building and completion of the Maine Turnpike in 1947. (Not to mention the extension to Augusta finished in 1955.)
We successfully advocated for President Eisenhower’s grand vision for an interstate highway system (signed into law in 1959) and its development in Maine.
We have also spearheaded numerous transportation bond campaigns, beginning in 1969 after voters rejected a critical highway bond at the polls. The organization has led many successful bond campaigns since then. All told, these campaigns have secured many hundreds of millions in investments for roads and bridges, port and rail and marine infrastructure projects that have benefited residents in all reaches of the state.
We led the 1997 referendum campaign to widen Maine’s most traveled highway – the Maine Turnpike. The Widening referendum passed by a large margin and led to a $135 million infrastructure investment. The Widening was completed in 2004.
The MBTA created LD 1790: An Act to Secure Maine’s Transportation Future in the Maine Legislature in 2007. The landmark bill provides the framework for major changes in how Maine finances its transportation infrastructure.
We joined the coalition of supporters of the state’s 2011 purchase of 233-mile rail network in Aroostook County, needed to preserve a valuable transportation route for Maine manufacturers.
We backed Governor Baldacci’s bridge funding initiative, LD 2313: An Act to Keep Our Bridges Safe. This legislation provided $160 million for bridge reconstruction and repair. The bill passed in 2008. The money recently came to an end, but by no means are we done here. We still have hundreds of bridges in need of repair.
We have advocated for dredging the Searsport channel and port infrastructure improvements in Portland, Searsport and Eastport in order to spur international marine trade. In 1983, when we expanded our mission to include marine, rail, aviation and other forms of transportation, we vowed to promote multimodal transportation and all it does for Maine’s economy.
We launched the Fix It Now! campaign in 2014 to build grassroots support for transportation investment statewide. Our work is just beginning on this important public awareness initiative, and our 75 years of experience in transportation advocacy and coalition-building is sure to help immensely.
With a list so long, most self-respecting 75-year-old associations might feel justified in calling for a nap. But not us. At 75, we’re just warming up. There are new battles looming on our radar, and we’re good to go, because our beliefs haven’t changed.
Our goal, as always, is investing in a safe, efficient transportation network for Maine. Today we have nearly 700 members who not only share this goal, but work hard to see the path remains straight. They are the driving force in the organization and like 700 candles on a birthday cake, they are helping us celebrate this very significant year.
I have been proud to serve as your president in the year leading up to this very important birthday. And I, like the organization, plan to stick around to make sure it keeps helping Maine transportation get better in the years to come. I look forward to working with the MBTA leadership and our members on this great effort ahead.