GORHAM — The mild winter we’ve had so far could mean that potholes and frost heaves won’t be quite as numerous, but as anyone who drives in Maine knows, roads across the state are in rough shape.

Adequate, sustainable transportation funding is a nationwide problem. With Washington in paralysis, it’s up to states to find a solution to the chronic underfunding that has left our roads and bridges crumbling.

Here in Maine, the Legislature’s Transportation Committee is having a much-needed conversation about the future of our infrastructure – and what it will take to pay for it. As our transportation system continues to deteriorate, more and more people are recognizing this isn’t a partisan issue. Across the political spectrum, from Kittery to Fort Kent and in all sectors of our economy, Mainers recognize we can’t afford to kick the can down the road any longer.

According to the Maine Department of Transportation’s latest three-year work plan, we’re falling short of what’s needed just for basic road and bridge maintenance by roughly $168 million each year. Last year, the department presented the “Keeping Our Bridges Safe” report, which stated that we need to spend $70 million more per year just to keep our bridges safe.

We owe it to the people of Maine, our businesses and the future of our economy to have a serious conversation about how to fix the funding shortfall and start keeping up with our transportation needs.

The Transportation Committee, which I serve on as House chair, is considering what options will work best for our state. Of these potential solutions, addressing the decline in revenue from the state gas tax has received the most attention.

The highway fund, which is the portion of the state budget dedicated to highway-related projects, relies on fuel taxes for the majority of its revenue. Because the gas tax isn’t indexed to fuel-efficiency standards, revenues drop as new vehicles use less fuel to meet federal standards.

Because of this decline in revenue, it’s just getting harder and harder for the state to fund necessary infrastructure projects. In recent years, we’ve worked with the Department of Transportation to find savings and achieve efficiencies to make up for the loss of revenues – but as anyone who drives on our dilapidated roads knows, we can’t cut our way to a solution.

We’ve relied on bonding to make up part of the difference, and voters have overwhelmingly approved those measures at the ballot box. But bonding is not a predictable way to fund these crucial projects, and it costs taxpayers more in debt service in the long run. While bonding is an important tool, we shouldn’t be relying on bonds to fund the regular, expected expenses of maintaining a modern transportation system.

Instead, we should recognize that voters have repeatedly approved these measures because the people of Maine know the importance of smart investment in our infrastructure. From this and what I hear from folks in my district, I think it’s clear that people want us to take action to make our roads and bridges safer and more reliable.

An across-the-board increase in the gas tax, permanent or temporary, is not the only option we’ve discussed. Some have suggested a seasonal gas tax. Others have pitched a plan to dedicate a portion of sales tax receipts from the purchase of transportation-related products to the highway fund.

A range of potential solutions is on the table. I’m proud of lawmakers on the committee for stepping up to the plate to have a constructive, in-depth conversation on this issue. It’s a problem that requires real leadership, not partisanship. Our transportation system is at a crossroads. Finding a solution that can gain the necessary bipartisan support likely won’t be easy, but it’s the right thing to do for our state and the right time to do it.

A safe, reliable transportation system is crucial to keeping our businesses competitive. In fact, many of our largest sectors – like agriculture, forestry, fishing, construction and tourism – require moving people and heavy goods across our sprawling state.

If we’re serious about building a stronger economic future for Maine, it’s time to secure sustainable funding to build – and maintain – the infrastructure to support it.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.