Voters’ bond approval helping to create jobs

Posted July 06, 2010, at 8:03 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Borrowing approved last month by voters is already putting some Mainers to work, with road repair and construction jobs leading the way.

“We wanted to make sure we could get projects out as fast as possible so we had several projects we actually advertised before the bond vote,” said Department of Transportation Commissioner David Cole. “According to my figures we had about $9 million in bid projects opened June 9.”

He said the money became available for the projects last week when Gov. John Baldacci officially proclaimed the results of the June 8 referendum vote. Cole said the $24.8 million in highway projects would be spent this summer and fall on projects in nine counties.

“Those projects will generate somewhere between 700 and 750 jobs this summer,” Cole said. “Some preparation work is under way and paving will start in July.”

Gov. John Baldacci said those jobs are needed to help spur the economy and provide needed improvements to the state’s infrastructure. He is pleased Mainers realized the need for the investments in the state.

Baldacci said there would be jobs created from building an offshore wind turbine facility, but that will not be built this year. That is $11 million of the $26.5 million “energy” bond the voters approved.

The University of Maine system is getting $9.5 million for energy conservation and infrastructure improvements. The community colleges are getting $5 million and the Maine Maritime Academy is allocated $1 million. Some projects are scheduled for this year while others will not begin until next year.

Baldacci said keeping jobs in this economy is in many ways as important as creating new jobs, and that is why he pushed the rail portion of the transportation bond.

“The northern project is about keeping 22 shippers from making decisions that would be negative,” Baldacci said. “You got to fight like heck to keep the jobs we have in this very competitive marketplace.”

The voters approved $7 million for purchase of rail lines that the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway plans to abandon in northern Maine. The Legislature appropriated another $7 million for that purpose earlier this year, but the future of the line depends on whether the federal Surface Transportation Board approves funds to upgrade the deteriorated tracks.

“We just don’t know what that will mean for jobs and a time table for that work,” Cole said.

He said two other rail projects the voters approved — $4 million for work on the Mountain Division Line the state owns that runs from Westbrook to the New Hampshire border, and $3 million for the Lewiston-Auburn railroad — will take substantial engineering and the work likely will not occur until 2011.

The $6.5 million approved for the deep water berthing facility in Portland Harbor will not go to bid until next month. He said work would start this fall at the earliest.

He said with planning and engineering time needed for all road and bridge projects, there are always projects being prepared after they have been funded by the Legislature or through bonds or federal grants and matching funds.

“The water and sewer projects will bring in a significant federal match and those are all construction projects,” Baldacci said. “These are needed projects and they will create some jobs, and they are needed.”

The nearly $10 million in bonds for drinking water and waste treatment facilities will leverage abut $33 million in additional federal funds. Those projects will generate about 750 jobs during construction. Some of those projects will be started this year, but some will not be started until next year.

Those projects are at local water and sewer districts and sometimes includes a local funding component, so estimating the number of jobs being created is difficult, Baldacci said.

One of the bonds may not produce jobs this year, but should help the economy grow in 2011 and 2012. The voters approved a $23.8 million bond package for everything from economic development loans to loans for research and development and investments in the sprawling former Brunswick Naval Air Station.

The grant and loan programs are a competitive process so any jobs must wait until that process is completed.

The largest single amount in the “economic development bond” is $8 million for the BNAS redevelopment that will get under way next year. With more than $30 million in federal matching funds, it will create hundreds of jobs as buildings are renovated.

“It’s important that the job creating effects be over a couple of years,” Baldacci said. “It will take time to grow our economy out of this recession.”

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