Infrastructure improvements key to development

Posted Sept. 20, 2010, at 8:04 p.m.

It seems like a weekly occurrence that I receive a phone call or have a discussion at the grocery store concerning the condition of roads around our state. Residents and business owners tell me stories about potholes, ruts and crumbling pavement leaving tires, wheels, axles, exhaust systems and oil pans in their wake.

Many drivers avoid these roads when possible and I admit to doing the same. Maine has hundreds of miles of roads and old bridges that are in need of repair, but we can’t avoid them all.

For several years, Route 186 in Gouldsboro and Winter Harbor has been the source of considerable vehicle damage and a threat to the safety of everyone who travels. It is the only way for many residents to travel to and from their homes and it is the gateway to Acadia National Park. Thankfully, the major road construction currently underway on Route 186 will reduce vehicle damage and provide a much safer trip for local residents and our visitors.

Repairing our roads is critical to our core industries. Have you been stuck behind an RV while driving on Route 1 this summer? You know, the ones with the bikes nearly falling off the back, the canoe on top and license plates from “away”? The medley of out-of-state plates is evidence that people from away are using Maine roads to access our pristine parks and proof that our roads are invaluable to our tourist industry.

In addition to the tourists trekking up here to enjoy our state, hundreds of trucks a day travel through Maine carrying goods that are vital to our businesses. According to the Maine Turnpike Authority, tourism and trucking increase our traffic counts by millions from May through October.

The longer we wait to repair our roads, the longer the disrepair will continue to affect our daily commutes, our cars, our trucking industry and our tourists. Plus, it will cost us more to fix down the road as costs continue to rise.

Lawmakers understand how a strong economy depends on a strong transportation network. We are taking steps to ensure we not only have safe, maintained roads and bridges but also piers and rails.

The bipartisan transportation bond packages that we passed in the 124th Legislature will improve our transportation infrastructure as well as create jobs throughout the state. According to the Associated General Contractors of Maine, the 2010 bond package includes a $24.8 million investment in highways that will generate 640 jobs. It also provides $9 million to improve and expand rail service for Lewiston-Auburn and the Mountain Division in Western Maine, creating 234 more jobs.

The package also will fund the deepwater pier in Portland at $6.5 million, enhancing the economic potential of the harbor, improving global competitiveness and drawing thousands of new tourists to Maine.

Rail and port investments will increase tourism and allow for broader leisure and business commuting at a lower cost to commuters, who can put those savings back into the economy.

As traffic increases, especially with all the RVs on the road, lawmakers want to ensure the safety of all drivers and passengers. In 2009, we enacted a distracted driver law, which makes failure to maintain control of a motor vehicle a traffic infraction. We also established a civil violation and mandatory license suspension for peo-ple who cause the death of another person while operating a motor vehicle and committing a traffic infraction.

In 2010, we further improved safety by allowing heavy trucks to pass on certain sections of the Interstate, saving money, investing in more commerce and protecting our small communities from dangerous truck traffic. According to an independent transportation study, getting these trucks off our secondary roads will reduce Maine’s crash rate by more than three fatalities a year.

A strong economy depends on a strong and safe transportation network. Safe, well-maintained roads and bridges are vital for businesses to start up in regions across the state, transport goods and allow employees to go to work.

Rob Eaton, D-Sullivan, represents District 34 in the Maine House of Representatives. He can be reached at RepRob.Eaton@legislature.maine.gov.

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