David Bernhardt, Gov. LePage’s nominee for commissioner of transportation, looks to have the right combination of work ethic, experience and creativity when it comes to stretching a dollar. He will need all of that and more if he is confirmed to the top job by the Senate, following the Transportation Committee’s unanimous vote in favor of his confirmation.

According to a report issued to lawmakers last summer, the state is $720 million short of funding for the projects in the department’s 10-year transportation plan. That means that the department is going to have to come up with more revenue or a scaled-back plan –- most likely, a combination of the two. Bernhardt has the reputation of being able to find efficiencies in a department that has seen its share of cuts. MDOT has reduced its work force by about 10 percent during the five years previous to LePage’s taking office, shedding about 200 jobs.

As a DOT employee, Bernhardt worked to revamp the de-icing truck routes, making them more efficient and cost-effective. He also led an effort to reduce the number of job classifications from seven to three, ending the distinction between people who work on highways and those who work on bridges. And he has the reputation of being a problem solver who will look for a way to get a stalled project completed, even if that means not conforming to an ideal standard.

These kinds of efficiencies are important, but they won’t be nearly enough.

The health and safety of Mainers depend on good roads, and our economy, particularly the tourism industry, won’t prosper if they are allowed to keep crumbling.

No matter how well run the department is, it needs to come up with a way to deal with the fact that the fuel tax, which provides 70 percent of the highway fund, declines as cars become more fuel-efficient. To the extent that hybrid and plug-in electric cars enter the fleet, more revenue will be lost.

Efficiency at the MDOT is a good place to start, and as a 26-year veteran of the department, Bernhardt will have a good sense of where to find savings. But that’s only a start.

At his hearing before the Transportation Committee Tuesday, Bernhardt suggested the answer may be more help from the federal government, but that’s nothing Maine can bank on.

Maine will have to modernize the way it pays for transportation, and it should start soon.