July 22, 2018
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To fix Maine’s roads and bridges, we all need to have equal stakes in the outcome

George Danby | BDN
George Danby | BDN
By Andrew McLean, Special to the BDN

There is nothing more fundamental than the work the government does to provide for the safe and efficient movement of people and goods. Our transportation network of roads, bridges, airports, rail lines, seaports and bike and pedestrian facilities is critical to the success of our economy. But in the last 20 years, we have seen a decline in the investment we make in our transportation infrastructure, and it has already had a detrimental effect on our state.

During times of great peril and when our country had significantly fewer means than we do now, we invested in our infrastructure. During the Civil War, we built the Transcontinental Railroad. During the Great Depression, we built the Hoover Dam, and right after World War II, we constructed our Interstate Highway System. We made these collective investments because we knew they were a downpayment on our future. We saw opportunity in coming together to build things that would improve the lives of the average person. These were — and continue to be — monuments dedicated to our collective will and vision.

While previous generations constructed these engineering marvels, over the last few years we have not even been able to find the funding to meet our state’s basic transportation needs.

Because of declining revenues and the increasing cost of maintaining deteriorating roads and bridges, the Maine Department of Transportation has estimated we need another $160 million every single year just to keep up with basic maintenance. Every year we let that deficit grow, we incur more risk and lost opportunities.

Damage to our vehicles from bad roads, traffic congestion, pedestrian and driver safety, businesses that don’t have easy access to market, and more cost our economy millions of dollars every year.

There’s no way around it. It’s going to cost money to fix this problem, and there will be growing pains until we get there. The only way to succeed in building a long-lasting statewide infrastructure is by ensuring everyone — truck drivers, green car owners, consumers and communities — has equal stakes in the outcome.

This session I have a bill, LD 1149, that combines Republican and Democratic proposals to fund improvements in Maine’s infrastructure by raising revenue from four sources, including gas sales, motor vehicle and green vehicle registrations and the sales tax.

Gas prices are the lowest they’ve been in over a decade, and yet the gas tax has not increased. Some motor vehicle registration fees have not been raised since the 1970s and actually cost the state money. Owners of hybrid and electric cars pay much less or no fuel tax at all while still using our roads and bridges. My bill is a starting point. There are many other ideas that could be viable options for raising revenue to pay for a long-term plan to improve Maine’s roads and bridges. Anyone who drives on our roads understands the need is great. But the time is right, as well.

The Department of Transportation has earned our trust by completing projects in an efficient and timely manner. The money we pay in fuel tax all goes to fix roads and bridges. The department has used new design and finance techniques to stretch the dollar further than ever. It has organized its planning and construction of projects based on need and economic importance through its annual work plan. And, lastly, the implementation of the statutory goals set out a framework in Maine law for the progress that is needed on our roads and bridges. When asking the public for further investment, we have to ensure those dollars are being spent efficiently. In my view, the Department of Transportation has earned the public’s trust.

This issue is not just important to people who sit on the left or right side of the political spectrum. It doesn’t matter if we come from Kittery or Madawaska. We don’t drive on Democratic roads or Republican roads — we drive on Maine roads. Solving this problem is too important to let partisanship or narrow interests get in the way. Now more than ever, we need an honest and constructive conversation on how to fix our transportation infrastructure. And, frankly, there couldn’t be a better time.

Without a solution, we will continue to tread water, falling further and further behind every year. Our economy is counting on bold and innovative leadership on this issue. My bill and these ideas begin that conversation.

Rep. Andrew McLean, D-Gorham, is the House chair of the Legislature’s Transportation Committee. He represents parts of Gorham and Scarborough.

 


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