Stripped DOT paving budget jars road repair crews, towns

Posted June 23, 2009, at 8:35 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Transportation officials’ recent decision to scrap 75 percent of the paving projects planned for the next two years due to budget cuts means deeper rim-bending potholes and more under carriage-scraping frost heaves for drivers throughout the state.

But for workers at Lane Construction in Hermon and other road repair crews around Maine, the canceled projects could mean substantially fewer paychecks at a time when other jobs are scarce.

“This is one of those steady year-in, year-out contracts that the state puts out,” said Rodney Lane, district manager for Lane Construction. “This is one that we really rely on to keep people working.”

As one of the largest road contractors in the state, Lane Construction had won contracts totaling $8.2 million to perform maintenance paving projects for the Maine Department of Transportation in 2009.

The value of those contracts dropped to $5 million when the state revised the project list based on available funding.

“Not only are we not putting food on the table of these folks, we’re not repairing our roads,” said Lane, who is of no relation to the owners of Lane Construction, one of the nation’s largest general contracting firms.

“To not have this program, especially with the prices out there now, is irresponsible,” he added. “I know it’s a cliche, but if we don’t maintain it, we’re going to pay more for it down the road.”

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DOT officials said they were forced to cancel the projects due to the bare-bones road repair budget that passed the Legislature earlier this month. That budget, which was one of the last items that lawmakers grappled over, got tied up in debate over whether Maine should raise taxes on gasoline to more aggressively address Maine’s crumbling road network.

The various sides could not agree on a solution, with opponents arguing that a recession is no time to increase taxes. So last Friday the DOT released its list of more than 130 projects that would have to be scrapped. The list includes 40 percent of the maintenance paving projects in 2009 and the entire list of proposed 2010 projects.

DOT spokesman Mark Latti said the department “reprioritized” the list based largely on the severity of the need and the traffic flow on those roads. Latti said the department also tried to spread the work among the contractors that had already won bids in order to keep people working.

The list of dozens of canceled projects includes:

— Approximately 21 miles of Route 139 through the communities of Winterport, Thorndike, Brooks, Knox and Monroe.

— 20 miles of Route 176 in Blue Hill, Orland and Surry.

— About five miles of Route 7 in Dover-Foxcroft.

— 11 miles of secondary state roads in Hermon, Kenduskeag and Levant.

Click for a longer list of canceled — and on-going — projects.

Hermon town manager Clint Deschene said the reality is that the projects that were canceled — especially on Annis and Wing roads — need much more than the five-eighths of an inch of pavement that the state maintenance contract offers.

“There are spots where the ruts are in excess of 6 inches deep,” Deschene said.

But Deschene said the town was pleased that 2.4 miles of Route 2 were kept in the paving budget for this year, although he added that the road really requires reconstruction.

The debate over how to address Maine’s deteriorating roads will continue throughout the year and will likely intensify as the fall election approaches.

The Legislature’s Transportation Committee will continue meeting this year to explore potential funding sources, including a higher gas tax.

Meanwhile, those tired of paying excise taxes on their cars — which help pay for local road maintenance and plowing — will be lobbying for a referendum question to decrease that tax.

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