No slowing down. MBTA turns 75. By Tom Gorrill.
The local squeeze. Maine’s towns and cities cope with scarce funding. By Kathryn Buxton.
Session wrap-up. A look back at the second session of the 126th Maine Legislature. By John Melrose.
Meeting of minds. Advocates gather in Blue Hill to discuss Hancock County priorities.
Fix it Now! profile: Hancock County
Back in business? Economist Charles Colgan speaks at Cumberland Meeting.
The trucks stop here. Whited looks to expand truck sales to Southern Maine. By Kathryn Buxton.
Innovation in motion. The Sarah Mildred Long Bridge replacement project. By Joyce Noel Taylor, MaineDOT Chief Engineer.
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.
The local squeeze
Road programs in Maine towns and cities, still feeling the effects of the recent recession, look to local funds and new MaineDOT matching programs to fill the gap
By Kathryn Buxton
The problem with a drought is that, often, the effects are felt long after the initial damage has been done. That could be said to be the case for municipal road programs which, like state roads, have been subjected to a continued squeeze on funding that has meant reduced revenue for towns and cities across the state.
While state funding for local road funding hasn’t dried up, it has remained flat for most Maine’s municipalities and will be coming under increasing pressure as federal and state highway funding is expected to shrink in the coming years. In 2009, when MaineDOT reconfigured its Urban Rural Initiative Program to establish the Local Roads Assistance (LRA) program, funding stood at $24,209,336 and was distributed to 502 municipalities, counties and Indian reservations in Maine. As MaineDOT has struggled with recessionary budget cuts, the program was trimmed to $22,798,321 in 2010 and since has hovered between $22 million and $23 million. In the new fiscal year, that number is estimated to be $20,751,610.
“MaineDOT has one of the more generous local roads programs in the country,” said MBTA President Jim Hanley. He noted that MaineDOT’s history of support harkens back to the early 1900s when MaineDOT’s predecessor, the Maine State Highway Commission, established the concept of “state-aid highways” and agreed to provide funding for an expanded road network. “Keeping up with that generous approach hasn’t been so easy lately,” he added, “but since LRA is based on a percentage of MaineDOT’s budget, the number rises or falls, depending on the size of the Highway Fund budget.”
For Maine municipalities struggling to keep local roads paved and plowed, tighter city road budgets have been keenly felt, especially on the heels of a long, expensive winter, with higher than budgeted plowing costs further exacerbating community-wide funding restraints caused by the recession.
Emily Shaw, a former associate professor at Thomas College, studied the effects of state budget cuts on Maine municipalities for the years 2008 through 2011. She found that cuts in revenue sharing, local road funding and other state support wrought the deepest cuts in municipal budgets for administration and public works. The cuts were heaviest in 2008 and 2011 when municipalities collectively trimmed more than $50 million from their public works budgets.
The effect of those cuts continues as towns’ and cities’ backlogs of rough roads, disintegrating sidewalks and sidetracked road improvement projects grows. A recent article in the Maine Municipal Association’s magazine, Maine Townsman, cited the types of cutbacks municipalities have endured over the past seven years that have impacted the delivery of municipal services. Cuts to capital equipment budgets have meant older equipment, such as city plow trucks, have spent more time in the repair shop.
In Caribou, staff cuts have meant longer response times, so it takes longer for potholes to be filled and roads and sidewalks to be cleared of snow. In Lewiston, the city has delayed plans to upgrade city sidewalks for accessibility, trimmed staff hours and put off road improvement projects. In Mexico, the town eliminated the position of road commissioner to save money and transferred his duties to another employee.
Shaw’s research also showed a shifting of fiscal responsibility from the state to the local level. As state debt has declined since 2009, municipal debt has increased. Her research also revealed that Maine towns raised property taxes by 5 percent between 2009 and 2011 to help offset state spending cuts on essential services, including roads.
‘Sharing the pain’
MaineDOT Deputy Commissioner Bruce Van Note remembers the difficult budget decisions that were made at the height of the recession. He said that the Maine Legislature’s Transportation Committee decision to cut the program did not come lightly, but was seen as a necessity. At the time, he said, the budget choice was to either cut $2 million to $3 million (about 10 percent) from LRA or reduce funding for MaineDOT’s light capital paving program, a program also supported by towns. MaineDOT has cut its workforce by 400 (about 20 percent) in recent years, and further significant operational cost savings at the state level were not available.
MaineDOT refers to this as “measured, predictable, shared pain” for both MaineDOT and municipalities. “Although we understand municipalities are having to make very tough choices, the loss of Local Road Assistance funding is relatively small and measured, and MaineDOT is doing what it can to mitigate the impacts with other municipal partnership programs,” said Van Note.
Those other programs include the MaineDOT’s popular Municipal Partnership Initiative (MPI). First established in 2011, the MPI provides matching funds up to $500,000 for road projects that are a local priority. Since the program’s first full year in 2011, MaineDOT has awarded about $17 million in state MPI matching funds for 63 projects that improved about 62 miles of roads. MaineDOT plans to commit an additional $6 million each year in fiscal years 2015 and 2016 to the program.
The MPI program has been so successful, Van Note said, that MaineDOT recently launched two other matching fund programs: the Business Partnership Initiative, generally a one-third state, one-third business and one-third local program to support local business development, and the Planning Partnership Initiative pilot program, a 50-50 state-municipal program to determine the feasibility of projects of municipal value.
“These programs leverage the local knowledge and energy of communities and provide mechanisms to move projects of local value forward,” said Van Note. “We value our relationship with municipalities, and look forward to continuing to partner with them,” he said.
Conservative and resourceful
In Kennebunk, the town has been conservative when budgeting and resourceful when financing road projects – looking to bonds, as well as competing for state highway matching grants. Kennebunk Finance Director Joel Downs said they have planned far out in advance of anticipated state funding reductions and implementing gradual property tax increases to compensate.
“By absorbing the reduction slowly, we have managed the growth in the property tax rate such that our taxpayers did not get hit with a big increase in a single year,” said Downs.
Throughout, roads have remained a priority for available town funds. The current administration, Downs said, sees good roads and bridges as integral to the services it markets to its largest local industry – tourism.
“During the past several years we have tried to maintain and improve our road system in a controlled, measured manner,” said Downs. “We understand the value to the community to have roads in good condition. Kennebunk relies on tourism dollars, and we want our visitors to have a very positive experience. Smooth, well maintained roads may seem minor, but people remember the small pleasures that keep them coming back.”
Kennebunk has looked to other sources of road funding and, in some cases, has issued municipal road bonds. The town has taken advantage of MPI grants for several projects: Route 1/Portland Road (from the intersection of routes 1 and 35 to the Kennebunk/Arundel town line); Route 35/Port Road (from the lower end of Port Rd toward Kennebunk Lower Village); Mill Street (where it crosses the Mousam River in West Kennebunk); and Route 9 / Western Avenue (in the heart of Kennebunk Lower Village).
“Leveraging state funds has been a significant benefit for Kennebunk. We plan to continue applying for more funds in the near future,” said Downs.
“The last few years have been the most frustrating and challenging of my career,” said Presque Isle City Manager Jim Bennett, who also has served as city administrator in Westbrook and manager in Lewiston, Old Orchard Beach, Sabattus and New Gloucester. He said that, in addition to flat state road funding, cities and towns have been caught in a tug of war with the State House over revenue sharing funds that since 2008 have declined as the state held back funds from municipalities to help balance the state budget.
Bennett said Presque Isle has done what it can to counteract the cutbacks, cutting its budget drastically: the 2015 Presque Isle budget is more than $660,000 less than the city’s 2008 budget. The city did enact one property tax increase, but has tried to hold the line there by eliminating 19 percent of its workforce and shrinking city services. To balance its road budget, Presque Isle has put off purchases of new highway equipment and delayed road repairs, including work on city sidewalks, drainage and planned intersection improvements. In some cases, the city has had to make some very difficult choices.
Case in point is Academy Street/Route 10 that feeds into Presque Isle’s Main Street/Route 1 and serves as a major commercial route for local manufacturers, including agriculture and forest products companies. The road, said Bennett, is in tough shape and is getting some paving work done, but the city had to forego a full reconstruction because it could not afford to earn full MaineDOT funding for the project.
U.S. Route 1, Presque Isle’s Main Street, needs work, too. The rutting has gotten so bad in the pavement that it has become something of a local safety hazard.
“The ruts are bad. I mean, three or four inches deep in places, and right downtown,” said Bennett. “We had a pedestrian who was injured crossing the street, it’s that bad. I don’t know how we’re going to be able fix that any time soon.”
‘Bag of money’
In Yarmouth, Town Manager Nat Tupper said the town has been fortunate to avoid much of the hardship being felt in many Maine communities. He said the property tax base has remained strong, and the town has been able to absorb much of the recent cuts in state funding by implementing limited property tax increases and careful budgeting. Still, the town enacted its first sewer fee this year to help offset the need for a property tax hike, and town roads, he said, could always use more money. The town has rebuilt about 30 roads in the past 20 years, and some of those roads are due for maintenance paving. That work has been put off, so the town can address more pressing road reconstruction needs.
Finding the right balance between maintenance paving and reconstruction is a big challenge these days, according to Yarmouth’s Public Works Director Erik Street. “If you look at some of those roads that are in line for maintenance paving and they are a ‘B’, and you’ve got roads that are a ‘D’ and need to be reconstructed, it can be a tough decision,” said Street.
He said one of those has been the decision to begin work on North Street, a project starting up this summer. The road is not in as rough shape as some town roads, but the road qualified for maintenance paving funds from PACTS, and the town was able to pair the paving project with a MaineDOT MPI grant to complete work on the shoulders. That work will be completed in two phases over the coming months. For the MPI project, Yarmouth will fund $78,550 (50 percent of the work). For the PACTS / MaineDOT pavement overlay portion of the project, Yarmouth’s costs will be $17,850, or 10 percent of the total project.
Tupper is matter-of-fact about the kinds of choices the town has made: "If you gave us a bag of money with $100,000 or $200,000, there are roads we would fix. There’s no question about that. It is the one area of public investment that people would support greater expenditure and effort – if the tax rate were not already being pressured so hard."
126th Maine Legislature
By John Melrose, MBTA Senior Policy Analyst
The good news for the legislative session that just ended is that matters relating to transportation finance did not get worse. Unlike the difficulties experienced with the General Fund, the Highway Fund supplemental budget was neither contentious nor difficult to enact. The biggest unforeseen challenges for the budget writers in the second session of the 126th was to provide an increase to municipalities for local road assistance of roughly $640,000 over the current and next fiscal year. It also appeared to secure the state's commitment to “light capital paving” of 600 miles per year. The budget further solidified Maine's commitment to finance its share of the estimated $172 million replacement cost for the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge at Kittery-Portsmouth. Both Maine and New Hampshire plan to use federal grant anticipation revenue vehicle (GARVEE) bonds to partially finance the bridge replacement. In addition, MaineDOT is authorized under this budget to sell the lower 1.9 miles of I-95 to the Maine Turnpike Authority for $30 million to further fund the bridge replacement.
The Maine Legislature enacted the Maine Turnpike Authority (MTA)budget as requested by the authority. This budget raises $41.2 million for operations, $30 million for the reserve maintenance fund, nearly $36 million for debt service and just over $24 million for capital improvements at new interchanges. At the recommendation of the MTA and MaineDOT, the legislature also moved the state toward compliance with Federal interstate signage standards.
In other action, the legislature, in L.D. 1817: An Act To Amend the Law Concerning the State Cost-share Program for Salt and Sand Storage Facilities, set an end date and close-out process for state financial participation in sand/salt storage facilities. In L.D. 1076: An Act To Provide a Mechanism To Allow Certain Commercial Motor Vehicle Weight Limits and Vehicle Dimension Standards To Be Exceeded in Order To Promote Economic Development while Ensuring Public Safety, they broadened the allowance for overweight and over-dimension loads on the state highway system under special conditions and financing requirements. The legislature passed, but the governor vetoed L.D. 1365: An Act to Promote New Models of Mobility and Access to Transportation. An Act to Improve the Accuracy of Fuel Tax Reporting, LD 996, died on the Special Highway Fund Table when the legislature adjourned. If passed, the loss of revenue to the Highway Fund would have been $535,000 per year. After a tortuous set of deliberations, the legislature's Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee gave up on L.D. 965: An Act To Improve Maine's Underground Facility Damage Prevention Program and efforts to alter Maine's Current Dig Safe Laws.
Last year, the legislature sent to the voters and the voters approved a $100 million transportation General Fund, general obligation bond. The proposed bond was similar to a bond proposal supported by MBTA. It was not expected that the legislature would take up another transportation bond this year. However, late in the session, the Appropriations Committee convened to address more than 30 bond proposals before them. The committee killed most of those proposals, but held several for further consideration including L.D. 942: An Act To Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue To Invest in Deficient State Highways, Bridges and Aviation, Marine, Rail and Transit Facilities, a bond proposal sponsored by Transportation Committee Co-Chairman Senator Mazurek and developed by MBTA. In the end, this bond, and all of the others relating to transportation, died, including a recently filed proposal to purchase the Bar Harbor Ferry Terminal.
Noteworthy by its absence this legislative session was any initiative to address the anemic condition of the Highway Fund. With the repeal of motor fuel tax indexing by the prior legislature, Maine's gas tax now has slipped below the national average. The diesel tax rate is now just at the national average. The proponents for repealing indexing promised a bold alternative to place the Highway Fund on a solid footing. No such proposal has arrived on the scene. Meanwhile, federal inaction continues into a third decade regarding any adjustment to the federal motor fuel tax. Other states are not sitting idle waiting for relief from Washington. They realize they have the authority to fix this problem and they are doing so.
When will Maine legislative leaders realize this as well and take action? We are now moving into election season, and this is a fair question to ask of the candidates.
EDITOR'S NOTE: MBTA would like to say “thank you” to four experienced Maine legislators leaving the Transportation Committee: Chair Senator Ed Mazurek, who is retiring; fellow chair Representative Ken Theriault, who is running for the Maine Senate; and Representatives Ann Peoples and Bob Nutting who are leaving the legislature due to term limits. We wish you all well as you move on to new chapters in your professional, public and personal lives.
A meeting of minds
Blue Hill gathering to be model for Fix It Now! campaign
On May 10, more than 80 residents of 11 communities in southwestern Hancock County convened with representatives from MaineDOT for five hours in Blue Hill to express their concerns and urge major repairs on the Route 15 corridor. Selectmen and women from these communities were present along with area legislators. Former State Senator Jill Goldthwaite moderated and former State Senator and Transportation Committee Chair Dennis Damon served as an advisor for the meeting. MBTA's senior policy advisor John Melrose was present and gave a customized version of the association's Fix It Now! presentation. Kate Dufour represented the Maine Municipal Association. Senator Brian Langley (R-Hancock County) had requested the meeting with MaineDOT earlier this spring.
The testimony was compelling, as were the actual conditions on Route 15 even though the frost was now out of the road. Some referred to the road conditions as "inhumane" or like those in a "Third World country." Local fire and ambulance personnel spoke about their concerns – about severely reduced response times and road-damaged equipment that has necessitated downtime for repairs leaving only one ambulance available and stressing at risk patients on emergency runs to the hospital.
Over lunch, a lobsterwoman said the only good thing about the bumpy road was that when she was being taken to the hospital for a kidney stone the road surface "rumbled that thing right out of her.” Numerous participants spoke about vehicle repairs costing in the hundreds of dollars.
Representatives from fuel delivery companies, seafood wholesalers, a building supply company and public works departments spoke about more substantial road damage to larger rigs – costing in the thousands and tens of thousands of dollars.
Stonington Selectwoman Evelyn Duncan questioned MaineDOT’s highway rankings. She wondered why Route 15 south of Route 3 was a priority 3 highway and not higher. Route 15 is a priority 2 highway, from Bucksport to Brewer.
The point was made that peninsulas should be considered differently. With water on three sides, the road options are limited and, as important, the expense to the state is limited as well.
In the afternoon, MaineDOT representatives addressed the audience and answered questions. They acknowledged the poor conditions and indicated MaineDOT was adding an unscheduled design project to their work plan to address seven poor miles on Route 15 in north Blue Hill and the town of Penobscot. No assurance was given as to when the worst sections in Stonington, Deer Isle, Blue Hill and Penobscot might be reconstructed.
Community leaders attending the meeting voiced their commitment to continued advocacy for Hancock County highways. A petition drive is underway through the online service www.change.org and already has more than 400 signatures collected. Comments are being gathered on bad sections of the road and linked to an online map the public can view. The group was made aware of the effort made in Aroostook County over a dozen years ago to fix Route 11 that resulted in more than 50 miles of improvement in three years. In that case, local residents convinced the legislature it had to act, and the legislature provided the essential funding needed to make it happen.
Fix It Now! profile
By John Melrose
It is no secret that Hancock County contains many attractions that draw travelers to the region. The travel numbers prove the point. County residents comprise only 4.1 percent of Maine's population, but state highways in the county carry 6.15 percent of all traffic off of the interstate. This disproportionate share of traffic means the Hancock County road network is not just locally important, it is of statewide importance. As home to Acadia National Park, Hancock County is of international interest as well.
With the county’s high profile role in Maine’s tourism industry, it comes as some surprise that highway conditions in the county are disproportionately deteriorated relative to the rest of the state. As the accompanying chart reveals, priority 1 and 2 highways, such as portions of routes 1, 1A, 3 and 9 disproportionately fall into the "D" grade category, while priority 3 highways such as Route 15 from Orland to Stonington, receive an "F" grade. The most significant factor driving these poor grades is the high incidence of crashes and the prevalence of unsafe conditions, including narrow travel ways and rutted pavement. Other issues, including pavement conditions, also contribute to the poor ranking of the region’s highways.
Improvements for ‘high priority’ highways
MaineDOT is poised to act on the worst offenders among the county’s priority 1 and 2 highways. In 2015-2016, the department has scheduled a $14 million reconstruction of Route 3 from downtown Bar Harbor heading northwest 4.8 miles. During that time, MaineDOT also plans a $6 million reconstruction of a 1.36-mile section of Route 1-A in Ellsworth, south of the Union River. MaineDOT does not currently have plans to address poor sections of Route 3 on the north end of Trenton, which has an ancient, narrow concrete surface underneath, nor does it plan to fix Route 1 leading into Ellsworth.
In regards to priority 3 highways, MaineDOT in 2014 is rehabilitating 2.53 miles of Route 46 in Holden-Dedham just south of Route 1-A for $950,000. This will complete improvements to this corridor from Route 3 to Route 1A. Left unresolved and a source of major concern is the condition of Route 15 from Orland to Stonington. Other priority 3 highways in need of work include: routes 175/166 and 166A from Route 3 to the Maine Maritime Academy (which is being addressed this year); Route 172 heading east out of Blue Hill; and routes 102/198 and 3 on Mount Desert Island.
Limited prospects for lower priority highways
Priority 1, 2 and 3 highways account for 48 percent of the state highways in Hancock County. For the rest of the state roads in the county – priority 4 and 5 highways – state policy is to perform light capital pavement treatments (formerly known as maintenance surface treatments or “skinny mix” paving) once every six years on average. Any more permanent or substantive fixes were abandoned by the Maine Legislature and Governor LePage three years ago when the decision was made to cut the 10-year capital funding gap for highways to $1.5 billion by lowering expectations for priority 4 and 5 highways. Roads in these categories include routes 186/196 on the Schoodic Peninsula, 184/204 in Lamoine, 179 and 180 connecting Ellsworth to Route 9 and a host of highways on the Blue Hill peninsula.
The decision on priority 4 and 5 highways left MaineDOT's Municipal Partnership Initiative (MPI) as the only real means left to rehabilitate or reconstruct these roads. Communities in Hancock County have heard this message. In 2014, the department's current work plan includes MPI projects in Ellsworth on Beechland Road, in Southwest Harbor on Route 102, actually a priority 3 highway, and in Tremont on Route 102. The three projects combined carry a price tag of $4.79 million and local communities are providing at least 50 percent in matching funds for these projects.
Hancock County also is home to a disproportionate share of Maine’s structurally deficient bridges. Fifteen percent of Maine bridges are rated structurally deficient, and that is worse than for the nation as a whole. In Hancock, 26 percent or 14 of the 53 county bridges 20 feet or longer are structurally deficient. The average age of these structurally deficient bridges is 70. There are six functionally obsolete bridges in the county, including the mother of all functionally obsolete structures, the Deer Isle-Sedgwick Bridge, which MaineDOT recently referred to as a "forever bridge." Scheduled in the work plan for 2015-16 is a $3 million substructure rehab project, adding to other recent investments intended to preserve this structure “forever.”
Hancock's other notable transportation services include the county-operated Bar Harbor Airport, one of only five commercial service airports in Maine. It is in line in 2014 for construction of an $875,500 partial parallel taxiway. More than $8 million in additional projects at the airport are under consideration. In 2012, the airport enplaned 10,006 passengers, six over the threshold to qualify for an additional $850,000 annual entitlement from the FAA.
The Maine State Ferry service operates out of Tremont and serves Swan's Island and Frenchboro. Generally, the facilities and vessels are in good condition. The county is also home to the Island Explorer, a seasonal bus service designed to accommodate peak traffic demands generated within and around Acadia National Park. With a fleet of roughly 40 buses, the service carried 424,000 passengers in 2013, up from 141,000 in 1999. A planned $12.5 million visitor center on Route 3 in Trenton, to be serviced by the Island Explorer, awaits final construction funding.
Prominent county bicycle and pedestrian facilities are located within Acadia National Park and on the former Calais Branch rail line. In 2915-2016, MaineDOT has programmed for a $1.4 million project to rehabilitate the rail trail from Washington Junction in the Town of Hancock to downtown Ellsworth.
The county's big deficiency for bike/ped use is found in the great lack of adequate paved shoulders throughout much of the County road network even on Route 1A in Ellsworth as the accompanying picture reveals.
Cumberland County Meeting
Back in business?
The mood at the MBTA’s Cumberland County Meeting March 20 in Portland was decidedly lighter than it has been in recent years. That is saying a lot, when you consider that the state’s economy was once again the centerpiece, with University of Southern Maine economist Dr. Charles Colgan as the featured speaker.
MBTA President Tom Gorrill gave welcoming remarks and recognized several state and local officials and legislative leaders in the audience: Maine Turnpike Executive Director Peter Mills and Representative Ben Chipman (I-Portland). He brought the group up to speed on recent work by the MBTA board of directors to raise support for the MBTA’s Fix It Now! campaign, a statewide grassroots initiative that, Gorrill said, “aims to get the public mobilized to invest in our transportation infrastructure.” Gorrill talked about the board’s upcoming one-day retreat (held on March 25) where the board worked on reaffirming its mission and updating the MBTA’s strategic plan.
News, good and not so good
The focus of the meeting was on the economy and Maine’s prospects for the coming months and years. The event was a return engagement for Colgan, who for the past several years, has offered an economist’s candid view of prospects for the state and for the region’s transportation industry. First, he offered the encouraging news.
“We’ve finally broken what has been a very uneven pattern,” Colgan told 100 MBTA members, family members, friends and community leaders. “We’ve had five consecutive quarters of employment growth for the first time since 2006.”
The good news, albeit with caveats, continued. Employment, he predicted, will continue to grow. Signs this is happening, said Colgan, are that median home prices on existing homes are on track to rebound to pre-recession levels next year, and the construction industry is beginning to recover, though that rebound is better in some sub-sectors than in others. The non-residential market is “pretty flat,” with the highway and non-building only “a little better.”
Colgan was frank in his assessment of the impact of federal and state leaders’ reluctance to increase funding for public infrastructure, including roads and bridges.
“The decisions about public infrastructure – how do I say this? – at both the state and federal levels are being put off at a considerable cost to our future.”
For anyone in the room who was worried about inflation, he quickly put those concerns to rest: “Inflation is not going to happen. . . we have a ways to go before we have to worry about inflation cutting off the recovery.”
The bad news in Maine, according to Colgan, has been bad, but not as bad as it could have been and that will impact Maine as it continues its recovery.
“In Maine, [the recession] has been horrible, but it hasn’t been as bad as the rest of the country,” said Colgan. But then, the recovery isn’t expected to be as robust as it will be elsewhere. “”In each of the last four recessions, Maine has significantly lagged in the recovery.”
Case in point is Maine’s unemployment rate, which for much of the recession was significantly lower than the rest of the region and country. Colgan pointed out, as the recovery has begun to gather steam, job numbers have begun to even out. “We’re at a situation where you now can’t tell the difference between Maine and the U.S. unemployment rate.”
Employment will continue to be a challenge as the state’s population continues to age. Mobility will be an issue, as aging Mainers will need access to friendlier transportation modes, including transit, pedestrian and bicycle options. Having the labor force to keep our economy going will also be an issue.
“Our labor force has started shrinking, and it’s going to get very low,” said Colgan. “That’s not going to be good news. We’re going to have a shortage of workers, and we’re going to pay a price for that down the road.” The only net labor force gains, according to Colgan, will be from the immigrant community, which is expected to grow over the coming decade.
Colgan did say that Maine was not alone. New Hampshire and Vermont also face many of the same issues. He also said there were remedies: increased wages to attract more workers to the state and investment in a “robust transportation network” to move goods and people efficiently throughout the state.
“We have a lot of work to do on our infrastructure for a whole lot of reasons,” said Colgan. “But I don’t have to preach to you about that.”
FMI: The MBTA holds regional issue meetings in Portland, Augusta, Presque Isle and Eastport. For a schedule and more information, visit www.MBTAonline.org.
The trucks stop here
In the right place at the right time with great service and selection, Whited Truck Centers have earned a place in the market selling and servicing trucks of all shapes and sizes
By Kathryn Buxton
By the time Jon Whited sits down for a mid-morning interview, he has crammed a lot into just a few hours. He has to. With three different truck centers under the Whited family name – in Presque Isle, Bangor and Auburn – and multiple product lines, as well as an active service department and used equipment division, there is plenty to do. After a quick trip to Topsham to deliver a part to a customer, Jon settles in at the family’s Auburn dealership, a sprawling facility that includes a new and used car and truck dealership, an RV center, an extensive service department and a new and used commercial truck and trailer dealership.
Though there is still a smattering of snow on the ground and Whited’s biggest customers in the logging and construction industries are waiting for the ground to dry out before launching the 2014 work season, Whited is looking forward to what he believes will be a strong year in both markets. All of the maintenance bays at the Auburn service center are filled with trucks in for service in anticipation of a busy construction and logging season. He said the market for new and used trucks has been building steadily since June of last year. Then there are the intangibles.
“I think people are tired of sitting around and are thinking let’s get this economy going,” said Whited. “It looks like it’s going to be a good year.”
He measures his optimism in dump trucks. “We used to sell 60 to 80 dump trucks a year,” said Whited. “During the worst of the recession, we only sold three or four – maybe 20 total in the past several years. This year we’ve ordered 12 for spring.”
As a sign of the Whiteds’ bullishness, the dealership is looking for a fourth location – somewhere in York or Cumberland County – that will enable them to better serve their customers in southern Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts.
“We’re looking near Saco, but we haven’t found the right place yet,” said Whited, who envisions the new location to be smaller than Whited’s Auburn and Bangor locations and similar to the Presque Isle store, with a strong parts department and full complement of service technicians.
The business has changed considerably since Jon’s father, Bob Whited, founded the original Bangor truck dealership – then called Bangor Ford – with John Linnehan in 1985. The two had worked in vehicle sales together, and saw an opportunity to build a business selling and servicing quality trucks. The dealership’s mission statement published prominently on Whited’s web site emphasizes service and quality: “Our mission is to build life-long relationships and to exceed our customers’ expectations. Our success is measured by team work and our dedication to customer satisfaction while providing ‘First Class’ quality products and services at cost-effective pricing.”
Those are words, Jon said, his father has lived by – that and a belief in building personal relationships with his customers based on honesty and good value.
Bob Whited bought out Linnehan in 1991 (Linnehan continued to operate car dealerships in central and Downeast Maine, but no longer sells commercial vehicles). Back then, as today, the primary market was commercial trucks for the construction, long haul trucking and logging industries. Whited initially was a single Ford truck dealership, but since has expanded. Bob Whited added the Presque Isle location in 1994 and expanded to Auburn in 2001. The new dealership provided the chance for Jon, who had joined the family firm in 1994, to step into a leadership role.
“My dad said ‘We have this opportunity in Auburn,’ and I said ‘I’ll go.’”
The mix of brands has also changed. What began as a straight-up Ford truck dealership in the late 1980s is now a much more diverse business. Over the years, Whited has added different lines to the business, as Bob and Jon have identified different niches. They now sell several different types of trailers – Mac, Etnyre, Stairs and Dorsey – including log trailers, live bottom trailers and lowbeds that are big sellers in the forest products industry. In Auburn, the company added an RV division in 2001 that does a brisk business in both sales and service.
When Ford rebranded its big truck division with the Sterling name in 1998, Whited became the “go to” dealership for the classic, American-made commercial trucks. In 2008, when the recession hit, Daimler Chrysler, Sterling’s parent company, decided to no longer make the Sterling brand. Whited sold the last of its Sterling trucks in late 2008. (Whited continues to be a major seller of Ford brand Super Duty pick-up trucks.)
Jon Whited said that, despite the loss of its banner brand, he and his dad saw an opportunity to expand once more. As businesses throughout New England were downsizing their fleets, Whited began systematically building a strong used equipment division, established on the same principles as its new vehicle dealership.
“We saw the chance to purchase undervalued used equipment, refurbish it and pass it on,” said Jon. “We bought as much as we could get our hands on.”
That proved a smart move. Their market included longstanding customers who still needed good equipment but didn’t want to tie up precious cash on new equipment. The addition of the used truck division saw the Whiteds through the early days of the recession.
The Whiteds have always been bullish on American made trucks, so in 2009, when the chance came along to become the northern New England dealership for Peterbilt trucks, they jumped. Founded in 1939, Peterbilt manufactures medium- and heavy-duty Class 6 through Class 8 trucks at plants in Texas, California and Quebec and carries a good reputation in the business, made stronger in recent years by fuel efficiency rankings that are up to double the industry standard.
“Peterbilt is the gold standard in American-made trucks,” said Whited, who said that the brand has been a strong seller since Whited took it on.
At the heart of the business, according to Jon, is a good working relationship between the two Whiteds. Bob Whited, CEO of the company, oversees the financial end of the business, managing investment decisions and keeping an eye on the bottom line. Jon manages the day-to-day operations, logging a fair amount of mileage every week traveling between the three locations.
“We work well together, and I have learned a lot from working alongside him,” said Jon.
The Whiteds have been keen to support their communities and the industries they serve, building relationships with industry leaders and helping out when and where they can. Whited is an MBTA member and is a frequent sponsor of the MBTA’s Infrastructure Development Golf Classic and other construction and transportation industry events, such as Maine NAWIC’s annual Construction Expo in Augusta. Whited is a member of the Professional Logging Contractors of Maine and the Shriners. The company also supports the Maine chapter of the National Kidney Foundation, in memory of Bob’s stepson Nate, who died of the disease in 2008.
Jon is quick to credit the Whited staff for their hand in the dealership’s continued success. The company has a solid core of experienced administrative, sales and service professionals at all three locations. Pete Webb, well known to MBTA members, has been instrumental in the growth of the business as vice president and general manager. Craig Cousins, who joined Whited as a mechanic just a few years after it first opened, now oversees the firm’s busy parts and service division. He said that the Whiteds are good to work for and that their sense of ethics and fairness extends not just to customers, but to staff as well.
“They treat you well, and that makes you want to work hard,” said Cousins, who has worked for Whited Truck Centers for the past 25 years. He said one big challenge he faces is finding young talent to join the company. “They don’t know what a good living you can make as a mechanic,” said Cousins. “But it does take training and a talent for the technical.”
Whited’s IT Manager and Assistant Sales Manager Sue McAvoy is a 13-year employee who has high praise for the Whiteds as employers and as business people.
“When they decide to do something, they are all in,” said McAvoy. “If they are sold on something, they sell their employees on it. They are gung ho, and as an employee you can feel that energy. It makes you want to do your best.”
Sarah Mildred Long Bridge replacement project
Innovation in motion
By Joyce Noel Taylor, MaineDOT Chief Engineer
Mainers pride ourselves on our Yankee ingenuity and frugality, and rightly so. At MaineDOT, it’s part of our very fabric; our mission is “to responsibly provide our customers the safest and most reliable transportation system possible given available resources.” Working within available resources and being responsible requires innovation and vision. The synergy of forward thinking and innovation is currently on display in southern Maine, spanning the waters between Maine and New Hampshire.
The existing 74-year old Sarah Mildred Long Bridge, that carries the U.S. Route 1 Bypass over the Piscataqua River between Kittery, Maine and Portsmouth, New Hampshire, is in poor condition and not doing its job. Only small trucks can use it today; it has been limited to 20-ton vehicles since 2009. The bridge is number one on New Hampshire’s “Red List” of bridges. Simply put, the bridge is at the end of its life.
Perhaps more importantly, the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge has huge economic value. It services highway, rail and marine navigation and is the principal backup to I-95 in the event of disruption of service on the high-level Piscataqua River Bridge.
Together, the Piscataqua River and Sarah Mildred Long bridges are probably the two most important bridges to Maine. Combined, they re-present an estimated $8.4 billion per year to Maine’s economy and carry 62 percent of all large trucks crossing Maine borders. The rail portion of Sarah Mildred Long provides the only viable transportation mode for the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard to ship spent nuclear fuel from its servicing operations of the U.S. Navy’s fleet of nuclear submarines. So the challenge is clear: what to do about a big, old, complex, structurally deficient, moveable bridge with high economic value.
The solution required innovation in design, funding and project delivery. Regarding design, the proposed new bridge will feature an integrated rail-highway deck for the lift span structure. The lift span will rise for tall ships and will lower for rail use. The innovation will allow for a 64-percent reduction in the number of required bridge lifts. This design will result in the elimination of a retractable rail span on the current Sarah Mildred Long, less wear-and-tear, fewer automobile traffic accidents and delays, and better air quality from reduced vehicle idling for the rest of this century.
Although we continue to work hard to manage costs, the sheer size and complexity of the Sarah Mildred Long project means that this will be the most expensive bridge ever constructed by MaineDOT. The current replacement construction cost target is $158.5 million. Including design and property acquisition costs that already have been funded, the total current project cost target is $172 million. So innovation in funding is necessary as well. Thirty million dollars of Maine’s funding is being derived from a transfer of the southerly two miles of I-95 from MaineDOT to the Maine Turnpike Authority. Without these two bridges, the turnpike would be essentially out of business. Further, MaineDOT and NHDOT recently reapplied for a $25 million ($12.5 million per state) federal TIGER grant (Transportation Investments Generating Economic Recovery) for the cost of the rail portion of the bridge, as rail costs are not eligible for traditional federal highway funding.
The innovation doesn’t end with the design or funding. MaineDOT is using a cutting-edge project delivery method known as construction manager/general contractor (CM/GC). CM/GC is a project delivery method that allows MaineDOT to engage a contractor, initially known as a “construction manager,” to provide early constructability input during the design process. It is being promoted by the Federal Highway Administration as part of their Every Day Counts initiative. The intent is to form a partnership among the project owner, the contractor and the designer early in the process to manage risk and troubleshoot challenges. A stakeholders’ group of local residents is also an integral partner to ensure the bridge design reflects the interests, personality and aesthetics of the community, whenever practicable.
MaineDOT previously has used the CM/GC delivery method on only two occasions. The first project was the award-winning Penobscot Narrows Bridge between Prospect and Verona Island that opened to traffic in 2006. This $89 million project, required due to unexpected deterioration of the main support cables of the old Waldo-Hancock suspension bridge, went from concept to completion in only 42 months. The second use of CM/GC occurred when Tropical Storm Irene washed out two bridges on Route 27 in Carrabasset Valley in the late summer of 2011. Working closely with our contractor, temporary bridges were functional in nine days, and two permanent, weather-resistant bridges were open before the economically-important ski season started – in an amazing 82 days.
CM/GC is a useful project development tool, but it is the exception, not the rule. It is best utilized for especially complex projects, projects that require extraordinary, early interaction between owner, designer, contractor, and stakeholders, or projects of an emergency nature. As noted above, MaineDOT has used CM/GC only three times in the last 10 years, yet we have delivered about 2,500 capital projects using the traditional design-bid-build project delivery method during the same period.
Looking forward on the Sarah Mildred Long project, final design details and actual contract costs will be determined in late 2014, after the design is finalized, a decision on the TIGER grant application is received, and a construction phase price is determined through continued negotiations or through a bid process.
We at MaineDOT are excited about this project and are anxious to deliver a quality, cost-effective and innovative bridge to our customers.