The media have given plenty of attention to the downfall of Paul Violette, former executive director of the Maine Turnpike Authority. However, the real scandal unearthed in the 2010 report from the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability is the MTA’s exclusive business relationship, stretching over 50 years, with the consulting and construction firm HNTB.
The OPEGA report highlights that “(a)s consulting engineer, HNTB is in position to have significant influence over determining what maintenance and improvement work needs to be done, and the budgeted cost of those projects, while the firm is also in the position of profiting from these projects as MTA’s general engineering services firm.”
The report goes on to warn that “(t)he risk is presently increased, however, because of the degree to which the firm participates in MTA’s capital and maintenance program planning, budgeting and decision-making.”
How much has this cost the public compared to Violette’s gift cards?
Despite Maine’s 1991 Sensible Transportation Policy Act, which calls upon state transportation agencies to reduce Maine’s dependence on foreign oil, promote energy-efficient forms of transportation, evaluate the full range of viable transportation options, and give preference to management of existing infrastructure before road building activities, MTA built more lanes in the late ’90s.
How much has this cost Maine commuters?
MTA’s own 1996 study of the feasibility of alternatives to single-occupancy vehicles identified nine promising transit connections along the corridor. While little has been done to realize these opportunities, MTA’s plans call for widening the turnpike through the Portland area. What will the long-term transportation and energy costs of such decisions be to the region?
While it’s easy to focus on the failings of one person, the failings of the system continue to threaten our quality of place and our economic sustainability.