BANGOR, Maine — Voters in Maine supported a $71 million transportation bond nearly 2-to-1, according to unofficial voting results compiled by the Bangor Daily News.
With 87 percent of precincts reporting, more than 65 percent of voters said yes to Question 6.
Transportation Commissioner David Cole said he was pleased with the voter support.
“Even in these tough economic times I think Maine people recognize the value of investing in our roads and bridges, in our rail ports and our entire transportation system,” said Cole. “Our economy is dependent on this transportation system. In order to be competitive we have to have a safe and efficient system.”
Maria Fuentes, executive director of the Maine Better Transportation Association, was encouraged earlier in the evening with how widespread backing for the bond appeared.
“So far we are seeing that there is support both in rural and urban parts of Maine,” she said. “This year people are very anxious about the economy, but Maine people have been pretty consistent about supporting transportation bonds.”
Voters have supported every transportation bond proposed in Maine dating back at least 40 years, she said.
The bond will invest more than $71 million in the state’s transportation infrastructure. About $55 million of the bond will pour into the Department of Transportation’s capital project budget for the next two years, leveraging another $110 million in federal funding.
The rest of the bond money will fund a variety of specific projects ranging from a bulk-cargo handling system at the Eastport port to $2.6 million for improvements at airports, including Brunswick Naval Air Station, which is scheduled for closure in 2011.
The borrowing will cost taxpayers another $19.6 million in interest for a 10-year note at 5 percent interest. Question 6 was the first of three bond packages that Mainers will be asked to approve. In June and November of 2010, voters will decide on the rest of a $150 million package passed by the Legislature in June.
The overall $637 million capital project plan includes 125 bridge projects, 228 miles of long-life paving and 34 miles of highway reconstruction.
Voters at the polls in Pittsfield on Tuesday had mixed feelings about the bond. Frank Tolman, a self-employed salesman, said he voted against it even though he knew it would probably pass.
“There are going to be enough people who don’t pay taxes voting in favor of it,” he said. “If they’re not making jobs with this money, what’s the sense of rebuilding the roads? They’re just creating work. They’re not creating meaningful jobs.”
Fuentes said bonds such as this one create both short- and long-term jobs.
“It certainly creates some construction jobs that pay a very livable wage,” she said. “And investing in transportation creates opportunities for businesses to move their products more efficiently. Anything we can do to shave off transportation time or move goods more efficiently is a long-term benefit.”