Do you favor a $105,000,000 bond issue for construction, reconstruction and rehabilitation of highways and bridges and for facilities or equipment related to ports, harbors, marine transportation, freight and passenger railroads, aviation, transit and bicycle and pedestrian trails, to be used to match an estimated $137,000,000 in federal and other funds, and for the upgrade of municipal culverts at stream crossings?
Mainers spend an extra $385 per year, on average, on vehicle maintenance because of the poor condition of the state’s roads, according to the latest assessment from the American Society of Civil Engineers. The group rated 40 percent of the state’s roads as being in fair to unacceptable conditions and nearly 15 percent of the state’s bridges as structurally deficient, much higher than the New England and U.S. averages.
In 2015, Gov. Paul LePage proposed borrowing $100 million per year for at least 10 years to address these deficiencies, as well as many others plaguing Maine’s transportation infrastructure.
The funding in this year’s Question 3 is the second installment of funding for priority projects on a long list of state transportation maintenance and improvement needs.
We recommend a “yes” vote.
The Maine Department of Transportation expects to use $80 million from the bond to repair and rehabilitate highways and bridges. It will focus work on the highest priority highways and bridges. Of the remaining money, $20 million will be used for multimodal facilities — port, rail, aviation, bicycle and pedestrian and transit facilities or equipment. The matching federal and local funds would mirror state investments.
We agree with the American Heart Association suggestion that a portion of this bond funding be used for bicycle and pedestrian projects, both to improve safety and to encourage healthy alternatives to driving.
The remainder, $5 million, will go to the Department of Environmental Protection to upgrade culverts at stream crossings, an important investment in road stability, flood protection and wildlife habitat. This funding will be awarded to municipalities, nonprofits, conservation districts and others on a competitive grant basis.
Due to a lack of transportation funding, Maine is not on track to meet a 2012 law’s timetable to improve the state’s roads, according to a 2016 Department of Transportation report. The department relies heavily on quick repair jobs rather than more expensive rehabilitation projects. The bond funding is needed so the state doesn’t fall further behind, but it won’t solve the problem.
The bond is also an important economic investment to improve commerce and the construction work will create jobs. The timing of this bond is also good as interest rates are low, and Maine has the capacity for more borrowing.
It is unfortunate that this is the only bond on the ballot. Maine needs to make big investments in its university system, research and development, and workforce development. These areas should be a priority for bonding next year.
In the meantime, voters should support Question 3 to continue needed work to maintain and improve the state’s transportation infrastructure.