Tuesday, March 11, 2014
By DAVID B. BERNHARDT Special to the Press Herald
AUGUSTA - Since Maine's transportation needs always exceed our available funding, we must seize every opportunity to inject much-needed dollars into our infrastructure.
Gov. Paul LePage has proposed a $100 million transportation bond.
But it is different than other bonds. It has no earmarks. Since the bond proposal does not include earmarks, the Maine Department of Transportation will decide where the money goes, responsibly and effectively.
The governor's proposal gives MaineDOT the flexibility to evaluate requests and fund projects based on economic and infrastructure priorities.
Our main priority is to fund projects that will create jobs and make Maine more attractive to employers.
This is not a bond to pay for railroads or walking paths to nowhere. It will fund port, rail or aviation projects that create jobs or bring employers to the state.
In addition to addressing areas that are most critical for economic opportunity, this bond ensures safe travel for residents and tourists alike. Investments include $46 million to construct, reconstruct or rehabilitate high-priority highways, $5 million for secondary roads, $30 million for bridge replacements and rehabilitation and $19 million for ports, harbors, passenger railroad, freight, aviation and transit facilities.
MaineDOT's mission is to provide our customers -- our taxpayers and our businesses -- with a solid, well-built and well-maintained infrastructure. As part of our $1.8 billion three-year work plan, this bond will allow us the flexibility to put the funds where they are needed most.
When the Icelandic steamship company Eimskip considered moving their operations from Virginia to Maine, the International Marine Terminal in Portland needed immediate work to ensure the cargo could be handled, stored and sent on its way in the most efficient manner possible.
The LePage Administration funded the port infrastructure to seal the deal.
Now that Eimskip is here, cooperation continues between the Maine Port Authority, Pan Am Railways and other waterfront owners to create jobs. Additionally, the arrival of Eimskip will foster greater opportunities for local businesses to expand their reach into new international markets.
This kind of forward thinking and ability to act quickly is crucial to keeping Maine competitive and open for business. The governor's $100 million transportation bond will provide DOT with the ability to respond swiftly to these kinds of economic opportunities.
Other recent examples of sound investments include the new $65 million Veterans Bridge connecting Portland and South Portland, the $11.7 million Piscataquis River Bridge in Howland, and the 12 northbound bridges along I-295 in Portland that were rehabilitated with no major disruptions to commuters or local business.
In addition, the Acadia Gateway Center administrative and maintenance facility celebrated its opening, easing congestion and improving transportation at Acadia National Park, Mount Desert Island and Bar Harbor.
Statewide construction projects for this year are already funded, but projects for 2014 and 2015 are not.
These are in various stages of development and will most likely be built when funding becomes available. However, immediate fiscal challenges lay ahead.
While the replacement of Memorial Bridge in Kittery is nearing completion, the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge is next. This is the only back-up route to the I-95 Bridge, which carries over 75 percent of Maine's gross domestic product. Extraordinary funds are needed for this replacement, but have not yet been identified. Even while partnering with New Hampshire, Maine's share of the cost will be significant.
I often hear citizens say that government should run more like a household. Well, what happens if you don't pay your bills? Your service is cut off and your credit rating suffers. It would be irresponsible to borrow more money before paying your bills. That is what the governor is saying.
Once the state pays the hospitals the $484 million owed to them, MaineDOT can then release this bond to invest in Maine at a time when borrowing makes financial sense.
Putting our fiscal house in order is a top goal of the LePage administration -- just like it is with your household.
Because of the LePage Administration's fiscal restraint and discipline, the state now has lower debt-service payments. Once we pay the hospitals and clear up our debt, we can borrow responsibly and focus on building critical transportation infrastructure.
This transportation bond proposal is a good one. If approved, contractors and construction workers can look beyond short-term plans and keep the paychecks flowing. So let's do the responsible thing, just like you would do in your household.
Let's pay the hospitals, let's approve this responsible bond package and let's get Mainers back to work.
David B. Bernhardt is the commissioner of the Maine Department of Transportation.