The ‘hole’ truth about potholes
Rough roads cost Mainers a lot – in vehicle maintenance, higher accident rates and business slow downs
By Tom Gorrill, MBTA President
This time of year, people can actually see the deterioration of Maine’s highways that has been caused by decades of underfunding. Continually fixing and refixing potholes is expensive and those potholes damage our vehicles, resulting in costly repairs. The money spent on filling in those potholes and on car repairs could be better used for improving our roads so the potholes don’t occur in the first place.
When we think about the costs of bad roads, consider that MaineDOT currently posts more than 2,000 miles of roadways that are especially prone to cracking and potholes every spring. This limits commercial traffic on those roads, hamstringing local economies and businesses. Home construction, logging, and heavy deliveries are just a few examples of work that comes to a halt for four to six weeks every year.
How long roads are posted depends on how quickly the frost goes out of the roads. Typically, according to MaineDOT, that can last until mid-May. So, MaineDOT provides links to maps to determine alternative routes. MaineDOT puts the total cost to reconstruct all posted roads as “beyond DOT’s budget.”
There is also the issue of public safety. MBTA Senior Policy Advisor John Melrose said at a recent meeting that, according to MaineDOT data, crashes are more than twice as likely to happen on Maine’s worst ranked roads.
In order to deal with its $300 million per year funding gap, MaineDOT has had to reprioritize its roadways and spend the money they do have on the higher priority roadways that are most heavily traveled. Less traveled roadways and bridges, which serve a large portion of our rural state, are left unaddressed due to lack of funding. This brings the funding gap closer to $150 million per year. Reconstructing posted roads, in many cases, isn’t going to happen. They will continue to be posted, year after year. Ultimately, who’s going to pay for the worsening condition of these roads? Maine businesses and Maine citizens in the form of increased vehicle maintenance, higher accident rates and lost economic opportunity.
Actually, when you think about potholes, they are a good metaphor for the idea at the core of MBTA’s Fix It Now! campaign. Because as bad as the pothole is, it is only a symptom of a much bigger problem under the surface. We want to highlight the cracks in Maine’s transportation infrastructure: substandard roads, aging bridges and too little funding to fix them. We also want to show how these problems are affecting life in Maine. We hope that by exposing the real cost of inadequate roads, we will build strong support for fixing them.
We have launched the Fix It Now! campaign, because someone has to do something. . . someone has to take on the daunting task of changing hearts and minds in Augusta and Washington. Other priorities have taken center stage along with the lion’s share of the funding. In 1975, we spent 25 percent of state revenues on transportation. In 2013, we spent less than 10 percent.
While the world has changed since 1975 and transportation certainly needs to be balanced with other priorities, this kind of a reduction cannot sustain a competitive transportation system necessary to the vibrant economy we envision in Maine.
The buying power of these reduced federal and state highway funds, primarily supported by the state and federal fuel taxes, also has shrunk. The federal gas tax hasn’t been increased in 20 years and in 2012, the legislature removed the state Highway Fund’s only hedge against inflation when it repealed indexing.
There’s only one serious fix for Maine’s roads and that’s to adequately fund their maintenance and repair. There is no other way.
In that light, Fix it Now! is enlisting serious support from those with a stake in the game: businesses that depend on the roads to transport their products; the tourism industry that relies on an effective transportation system; citizens who are paying more in vehicle repairs; and municipal officials and local elected officials who are tired of dealing with the issue each year and would prefer to see a sustainable funding solution. MBTA is seeking to work with all of these stakeholders to develop solutions through our Fix It Now! initiative.
We have worked over the past year to identify deficient roadways based on MaineDOT data. During the coming year, we plan to work on the next phase of the initiative to identify and evaluate alternative long-term, sustainable funding mechanisms. This effort hopefully will result in a broad consensus for solutions that could be introduced to the next legislature.
I hope you will join us. If you would like more information, or have ideas for us to consider, please call the MBTA office at 207-622-0526. Let’s get our roads and bridges fixed, now!