CUMBERLAND – As a Cumberland resident and taxpayer it behooves me to learn all I can about the citizen-initiated special referendum Tuesday, one which will determine whether or not the town will borrow up to $4.5 million to make improvements to Route 88, our community’s sixth-busiest road.

In order to properly inform myself I logged on to www.savecumberland.org, a Web page billing itself as the home site of the Cumberland Taxpayers Association.

The CTA took the initiative necessary to collect the signatures needed to force the referendum on the project after the Cumberland Town Council unanimously approved it in December 2009.

The CTA Web site asserts that ”The taxpayers of Cumberland are now saddled with another debt increase of $1,550 per household plus interest.”

It continues, ”Members of the town council have stated that Route 88 is unsafe to pedestrians walking and riding bicycles. The truth is that Route 88 is no less safe than any other major artery in Cumberland without a sidewalk including Tuttle Road, Greely Road, or Blanchard Road.”

This is at odds with the information contained in a leaflet with the heading ”Vote Yes to Save Cumberland’s Roads: Route 88 Repair Project,” a one-page paper with the subheading ”Know the Facts” that was put together by the Cumberland Save our Roads Association, a bipartisan, volunteer, town-sanctioned committee which was formed two years ago.

They claim that if the proposed repairs to Route 88 are included in the town’s budget, ”property taxes for the average Cumberland resident will increase by approximately $15 above current levels.” They also maintain that failing to make needed repairs now is not only a safety issue, but will cost the town’s taxpayers more in the long run.

The ”Vote Yes” information sheet states ”Route 88 is in dire need of repair.” However, the CTA Web site declares (verbatim), ”The town has implied that Route 88 is unsafe to drive due to drainage issues, however we have proven through driving testing (sic) that this road is perfectly passable even in wet weather.”

Plainly someone is embellishing his or her facts. In an attempt to figure out which of the conflicting views is more accurate I did the only sensible thing: I went for a drive over the portion of Route 88 in question.

The road is, to put it mildly, in desperate need of repair. Several particularly treacherous sections featured significant amounts of standing water, which undoubtedly ice over anytime the temperature dips below freezing.

Several of the numerous potholes are big enough to necessitate a front-end realignment for anyone unfortunate enough to run over one of them, and although I am an enthusiastic cyclist I wouldn’t attempt to bike Route 88 in its present state, even under ideal weather conditions.

And while the road has some scenic sections that would make it enjoyable to walk on, in its current crumbling state the hilly, winding and frequently traveled byway is clearly unsafe for pedestrians, not to mention the drivers and/or bikers trying to avoid them.

I traveled Route 88 on a clear, dry day. However, the obvious drainage problems I observed all along the road’s side made it clear that driving it in rainy or sub-freezing weather would be risky at virtually any speed.

Claiming that ”the road is perfectly passable” is demonstrably false, and makes me wonder how many more of the claims made on the CTA’s grammatically challenged, generalization-filled Web site are exaggerated or spurious. Some of their assertions may well have merit, but given the site’s many overtly inaccurate statements, it’s hard to take anything they have to say at face value.

It’s ironic that a group billing itself as ”Dedicated to lowering property taxes in Cumberland, Maine” is actually costing the town extra money by insisting on a special election regarding a much-needed infrastructure project.

While the CTA should be saluted for attempting to keep taxes low and applauded for their energy and willingness to get actively involved in Cumberland’s town government, in the future they should make every effort to fully explore the issues before attempting to find solutions to them.

After carefully considering the pros and cons of the Route 88 referendum, I will be voting yes on Tuesday, and will urge all of my friends and neighbors in town to do the same.

 

– Special to the Press Herald