Yes on Question 6

Posted Oct. 22, 2009, at 6:53 p.m.

Do you favor a $71,250,000 bond issue for improvements to highways and bridges, airports, public transit facilities, ferry and port facilities, including port and harbor structures, as well as funds for the LifeFlight Foundation that will make the state eligible for over $148 million in federal and other matching funds?

It may seem counterintuitive, but borrowing and spending money — especially on infrastructure — makes more sense during a recession than during boom times. Interest rates are low and the spending can create jobs here in Maine. And most compelling is that the physical improvements made by the bond funding serve as the nuts and bolts of a growing economy.

That is why voters should support Question 6, a state bond that will fund projects around the state that affect most, if not all, residents. The $71 million bond devotes $55 million to state highways and bridges, $8 million to port and ferry improvements, $4 million to railroad upgrades, $3.6 million for aviation work and $400,000 for the Acadia Gateway project in Trenton.

As is typical, the $71 million bond package will help match an additional $148 million in federal and private funds.

Maine voters historically support transportation bonds, and with good reason — roads, bridges, ports, ferries, railroads and air service are vitally important to the state’s economy and quality of life. The need for transportation infrastructure improvements is self-evident; anyone who drives the roads sees it. The state Department of Transportation has seen available funding shrink over the last five years as the cost of asphalt, steel, cement and labor increased. The gap between work that is desperately needed and funding keeps widening; to keep pace, another $250 million or more each year for the next 10 years is needed.

DOT Commissioner David Cole said the road work the bond will pay for is not maintenance, such as putting a thin coat of asphalt over a crumbling road, but rather critical reconstruction projects. In fact, to be eligible for bond funding, projects must have an estimated life span of 10 years or more.

Mr. Cole notes that Maine gets the same amount of federal highway funding as New Hampshire, yet Maine has twice as many miles of roads — 8,300 — to maintain. Almost all the work is contracted to private firms on a low-bid basis, he added.

Included in the planned aviation work are improvements designed to help LifeFlight of Maine, the helicopter service that provides emergency transportation from rural areas to hospitals.

Among the port work planned for the bond money is an automated conveyor belt system for the facility in Eastport. The device, Port Director Christopher Gardiner explained, will allow raw materials to be loaded onto ships bound for European markets, a growing segment of the port’s business.

Voters should approve the bond because the borrowed money is a needed investment in Maine’s economy on both a long- and short-term basis.

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