BIDDEFORD – The Maine Turnpike Authority has a new interim director, Peter Mills, who, already through his actions, shows he will be able to steer the organization through the tough times ahead. I also am hopeful that he also will avoid all the schemes to divert toll payers’ money to pet projects throughout the state.

After just a short time on the job, Mills has already accomplished a great deal and implemented many cost-cutting moves.

Equally as important, Mills is helping the agency re-examine how the Maine Turnpike Authority communicates with its customers and the towns it passes through.

Not that the MTA was doing such a bad job before Mills came along. One only has to read the OPEGA report to know that. (OPEGA stands for the Office Program Evaluation and Government Accountability and is an independent state office that monitors state government in Maine under the guidance of the Maine Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee. I am a member of that committee.)

This has been, by the OPEGA office’s own admission, the most detailed examination it has undertaken in its history.

While there is the extremely serious issue regarding the use of gift cards, the OPEGA report is quite clear that the MTA does many things very, very well.

The truth is, we have to be very careful how we proceed now that OPEGA and the Government Oversight Committee have concluded their work regarding the Maine Turnpike Authority.

That is because there is the opportunity to get carried away and damage one of the most important public resources the state currently owns.

Some people would like to exploit this opportunity to fund their favorite projects and causes — everything from buses and bridges to an east-west highway. Others would like to stop the MTA from building a new high-speed toll plaza. Some even have said they would like to see the agency dismantled.

Even as there are a number of vocal turnpike detractors and opportunists who are trying to use the OPEGA report to further their own causes, I have been impressed by the many Maine citizens, organizations and towns within the turnpike corridor that truly understand how well the organization serves the interest of Maine’s people and businesses.

The Government Oversight Committee received a considerable amount of positive testimony from municipal governments and civic organizations representing more than 20 communities within its corridor (including my hometown of Biddeford).

Those letters praised the MTA for its stewardship of Maine’s most important highway and oppose legislative measures that would endanger its efficiency and effectiveness.

That testimony also demonstrated how important it is to use toll payers’ money for the purpose it is paid — to continue to maintain the turnpike to standard of excellence turnpike customers pay for and deserve.

Gov. LePage appears to agree and has said: “In the long term, I think the turnpike authority has a major value to the state in being able to help us develop the state for economic development.”

He has not only said it in words, but recently unveiled a new “Open for Business” sign not far from the southern entrance to the turnpike, one of his administration’s efforts to make government more responsive to business needs.

Everyone can agree that one very important business need is for good transportation.

We count on the turnpike to take our products to markets throughout the region. We also rely on the highway to bring customers to our doors.

We are weeks away from carloads of visitors arriving via the Maine Turnpike to relax on our beaches, enjoy our mountains, swim in our lakes and shop in our stores. These wonderful people represent a major sector of our economy, and they create and support thousands of jobs throughout our state.

They pay a premium to travel on the Maine Turnpike, and they deserve to be able to get to their destinations safely and efficiently.

So let’s allow Mills to do his job and continue the work he and his staff already have begun, to address issues highlighted in the OPEGA report.

Let’s not make foolhardy decisions in the heat of the moment. Let’s not pile on debt and undermine the effectiveness of Maine’s most important highway.