AUGUSTA — Transportation Commissioner David Bernhardt told lawmakers Tuesday that the state needs to double its spending on bridges to dig out of an extensive maintenance and replacement backlog and that he and Gov. Paul LePage are developing a plan to shrink the backlog.
Bernhardt said Tuesday that LePage will release a plan to borrow money annually — perhaps as much as $100 million for at least 10 years — to pay for road maintenance and bridge replacement. The ongoing bonds would be approved annually by referendum and paid for out of the state’s General Fund, which means new money from state revenues would make the payments.
“Don’t wait until the 11th hour on the last day to talk about it,” said Bernhardt. “Let’s talk about it now. … We need to sit down and have a conversation about the future and see how we’re going to fund transportation. There’s a lot of ideas out there and we need to look at any and all of them.”
The discussion Tuesday with the Legislature’s Transportation Committee came after the release of a new MDOT report that found the percentage of Maine bridges classified in “poor” condition has been increasing since 2007. About 289 of Maine’s 2,744 state-owned bridges are in poor condition.
The report found that Maine is spending about $70 million a year on its bridges and needs to at least double that amount. Bernhardt estimated that the “smart bonding” plan under development by LePage would bring about $35 million a year to bridge funding and that the rest would have to be made up by either new state or federal revenue or by deferring money from road projects.
Some members of the committee agreed that the problem needs to be attacked on multiple fronts.
“Part of the conversation needs to be about other funding sources,” said Rep. Christine Powers, D-Naples. “The only time people seem to be in consensus about our spending is when we’re talking about infrastructure.”
Joyce Taylor, MDOT’s chief engineer, said her mission is to avoid catastrophes like the 2007 bridge collapse in Minneapolis and the emergency replacement in 2009 of the Waldo-Hancock Bridge when it became unsafe.
“We do not want another Waldo-Hancock Bridge to happen in this state,” said Taylor. “We need to look at these bridges, pay attention to them and do the maintenance.”