Saturday, March 8, 2014
By REP. ANN PEOPLES
WESTBROOK - We have all had our share of rough experiences with Maine roads. Extreme weather means our roads and bridges degrade quickly and require extra vigilance. Keeping our transportation infrastructure in shape allows families to travel safely and businesses to move their goods effectively.
That's why I'm so pleased that transportation projects will be part of a comprehensive $150 million jobs bond proposal due to go to Maine voters in November following votes by the Legislature. The bond plan agreed to by legislative leaders and Gov. Paul LePage also includes key investments in the state's higher education facilities and armories.
As a member of the Legislature's Transportation Committee, I understand just how critical our transportation infrastructure is. A healthy infrastructure is a staple to any growing economy. With well-maintained roads, highways and bridges, ideas and people can travel more efficiently throughout the state and to points beyond. With the roughly $100 million included in the bond plan, we can begin the work of restoring and expanding the state's infrastructure.
Our roads need attention. They get poor grades from the American Society of Civil Engineers, which also found that their poor condition costs Maine motorists $246 million annually in additional vehicle repairs and operating costs. That equates to $245 per motorist -- real money out of household budgets.
The transportation bonds will also address the needs of Portland's waterfront through projects at the International Marine Terminal and the Portland Fish Exchange.
Jobs grow quickly out of transportation bonding, but we must face the facts: Maine ranks third lowest in job creation among all other states in the nation. The comprehensive bond plan is a mix of both short-term job creation to help carry Maine through these tough economic times and of investments to produce long-term growth to carry those jobs into the future.
Investment in Maine people, the workforce of the present and the future, is key to our success. We need updated facilities for higher education so that our students graduate with 21st century educations and skill sets. That's why $34 million of the $150 million will go to higher education projects to renovate academic facilities and build new ones.
This plan will not only help Maine workers gain new skills, it will help our state be a place where workers want to stay and use the skills they've gained.
Higher education officials recently testified about the seriousness of the need for investment in their facilities before the Legislature's Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee. The bonds will renovate aging facilities and create new space to enroll additional students to fill unmet demand for skilled workers.
The proposed higher education projects span the state, from Wells to Fort Kent and from Calais to Farmington. They include improvements and expansion of areas for science, technology, engineering and math fields, lab space and needed equipment.
Democrats pushed for investments in research and development and land conservation, but the governor and Republicans were unwilling to include those areas in the November bond measures. Democrats secured from them a commitment to take up a research and development bond in January -- one that focuses on bridging the gap between the laboratory and marketplace.
This will be a smart investment in our future: Every dollar of state research and development investment returns $12 in economic benefits to Maine, according to the Maine Technology Institute.
I am proud of this bond package, not only for what it does for the state of Maine, but for what it represents: successful bipartisan cooperation. Democrats and Republicans put politics aside and worked out a sound compromise that will inject money into our economy and put Mainers to work. As a result, our state and the people of Maine will benefit now and in the long run.
Rep. Ann Peoples, D-Westbrook, is serving her fourth term in the Maine House of Representatives and is a member of the Transportation Committee.