The backbone of a strong economy depends on a well-built transportation network. Safe, updated roads, rail systems and bridges are vital for businesses to start up and grow, transport goods and allow employees to go to work.
Some have tried to lead Maine people into thinking that we can maintain our transportation infrastructure without looking for a new dedicated revenue stream. Anyone can simply look at what happened with the fuel tax revenue last year to see that this is not possible.
When fuel costs were at an all-time high, Maine people looked for every chance to lower their usage. Folks were carpooling in record numbers and reducing trips to gain control over their pocketbooks. The result of this smart economizing is that the state is seeing less revenue from the gas tax used to maintain important infrastructure. Couple this with the fact that automobiles are getting much more efficient and the trend continues.
All the while, the Maine Department of Transportation is trying to keep our roads maintained and balancing the needs of the other important transportation systems such as our harbors, railways and bridges. The costs of maintaining Maine’s transportation system have gone up like everything else. Maine has hundreds of miles of posted roads and dozens of old bridges that are in need of repair.
Legislation that attempts to take a chunk out of the DOT budget without any provision to fill it is irresponsible. Cuts usually sound good to taxpayers’ ears until they see the toll it takes in return. A cut to bridge repair projects simply pushes off higher costs into the future. Bills to move money away from other DOT projects to slap some surface treatment on a road is short sighted and ultimately will not result in savings.
Maine people know this, as is pointed out whenever a transportation bond is put before the voters. Maine people overwhelmingly vote to keep and maintain our infrastructure every time.
Each year the Maine Legislature struggles with finding enough funding to make basic road repairs and infrastructure improvements. This year’s federal stimulus investment stretched just far enough to complete a few projects. We are not alone. Almost every other state in the nation is experiencing the same hardship with dwindling coffers and aging transportation structures.
As the House chair of the Maine Legislature’s Transportation Committee, I have spent a good deal of time attending regional conferences so that I can learn about how other cities, towns and states are handling transportation funding. At every one of those meetings, innovative people are working on ways to improve our overall transportation system.
The missing piece is a stable funding source so that routine maintenance can take the place of costly major overhaul projects. We will need to be creative and resourceful to design a funding stream to keep our transportation system in good health. That doesn’t mean that we will only look at taxes — we simply need stability. Just as with anything, keeping up with repairs and completing preventative work early will ensure a longer life to our transportation infrastructure.
Edward Mazurek, D-Rockland, represents Rockland and part of Owls Head in the Maine House of Representatives. He is the House chair of the Legislature’s Transportation Committee.