Politics

January 16, 2013

Maine roads and bridges in line for extra boost

Lawmakers will consider a $100 million transportation bond with $51 million due to be released.

By Michael Shepherd mshepherd@mainetoday.com
State House Bureau

AUGUSTA – A Westbrook legislator has submitted a bill for a $100 million transportation bond, even as Gov. Paul LePage announced Tuesday that he plans to issue a separate $51 million transportation bond that voters approved in November.

The bill, sponsored by Democratic Rep. Ann Peoples, would allocate $65 million to road and bridge repairs, $20 million to improve rail lines, $10 million for public transportation and $5 million for pedestrian trails. It is too early in the process to determine the specific projects that would receive funding.

Maine voters approved the $51 million transportation bond in November, most of which would be spent on road and bridge repair. LePage has held up the bond, but his office announced Tuesday that he plans to issue it, along with about $54 million in other outstanding voter-approved bonds, after the state pays off its share of debt to hospitals.

In a statement Tuesday, LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett said the governor's priority is balancing the budget.

"When the budget is balanced he will take a look at all bond proposals that have been introduced," Bennett said.

House Minority Leader Kenneth Fredette, R-Newport, said his caucus supports the idea of a transportation bond, but said the $100 million figure in Peoples' bill might be reduced given that LePage plans to release funds from the 2012 bond.

"The amount is going to be the sticking point," he said. "I think it's appropriate to have a bill out there and then we can have this discussion."

Peoples said her bill was written by the Maine Municipal Association, an advocacy group that represents most Maine cities and towns.

Kate Dufour, a lobbyist for the association, said investment in infrastructure is one of a handful of issues the association's Legislative Policy Committee is focusing on.

Road and bridge infrastructure is a "key component to municipal government," Dufour said. "Without that system, you don't have development."

A December 2012 report from the American Society of Civil Engineers gave Maine's roads a "D" grade, saying the state spends less per mile than any other state to maintain roads.

"Maine's infrastructure is so weak right now," said Rep. James Gillway, R-Searsport, the only Republican co-sponsoring Peoples' bill. "Every amount of money we can put into that is good."

The measure requires the support of two-thirds of both houses of the Maine Legislature to go to a statewide vote.

Bruce Van Note, deputy commissioner for the Maine Department of Transportation, said the agency sees bond issues as a shot in the arm, but they're not a key component in long-term planning.

Last week, majority Democrats held a press conference outlining their legislative priorities, which included investment in infrastructure. Jodi Quintero, a spokeswoman for House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, said Eves "supports the concept" of Peoples' bill, but hasn't reviewed it.

 

State House Bureau Writer Michael Shepherd can be contacted at 370-7652 or at:

mshepherd@mainetoday.com

 

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