Question 3: Do you favor a $100,000,000 bond issue for reconstruction and rehabilitation of highways and bridges and for facilities or equipment related to ports, harbors, marine transportation, freight and passenger railroads, aviation and transit, to be used to match an estimated $154,000,000 in federal and other funds?
It’s clear that commerce relies on a strong, well-maintained transportation network. And as much as drivers might not want to sit in traffic held up for construction, we all understand the long-term benefit to our daily lives, and to our vehicles, of roads in good condition.
That’s why no serious and sensible opportunity to improve Maine’s road, rail, port and aviation infrastructure should be passed up. Fortunately, Maine people rarely have passed up such opportunities.
Question 3 should be no different. We recommend a “yes” vote on Nov. 5.
If approved, the bond would allow the Maine Department of Transportation access to $100 million — which the department can leverage for $154 million more from the federal government and other sources — and allow the agency to follow through with its three-year work plan for 2014, 2015 and 2016.
That work plan has identified high-priority investments — such as a rail connection to the International Marine Terminal in Portland that will allow businesses to load their goods directly onto railroads from the port — as well as its share of major maintenance projects. In Bangor, residents in the coming years can expect to see resurfacing on I-95, the replacement of the Union Street I-95 overpass and improvements to the intersection of Hammond and Ohio streets.
Maine’s infrastructure needs help. The American Society of Civil Engineers in 2012 rated Maine’s infrastructure a “C-,” including a “D” for roads — unchanged from the organization’s 2008 grade for the state. According to the group Transportation for America, Maine ranks 9th in the nation for the percent of its bridges that are structurally deficient — which aren’t in imminent danger of collapsing, but they require significant rehabilitation. Some 14.8 percent of Maine’s bridges, or 356 bridges, are considered structurally deficient this year.
Nearly half of the bond package is intended for roads; more than a quarter — $27 million — would pay for bridge rehabilitation.
Maine faces a structural problem when it comes to funding road maintenance, and the state doesn’t have the funds in hand to make long-term infrastructure investments out of its regular highway funding stream.
The gasoline tax has traditionally provided the bulk of money for the state’s highway fund, which pays for road construction, maintenance and traffic enforcement. But as the economy has slowed, people have driven fewer miles, bought less gasoline and paid less tax. In addition, drivers have bought more fuel-efficient cars, and the Legislature in 2011 stopped indexing the gas tax to inflation. As it’s collected today, the gas tax won’t supply nearly enough revenue to keep up with road maintenance and construction needs.
Transportation investments are a good use of the state’s bonding capacity. The return on investment — both short-term in the form of construction jobs and long-term in the form of lasting improvements on which the state’s economy will depend — is clear.