Use it up. Wear it out. Thriftiness is a quality Mainers value with an almost religious reverence.

No state agency better displays this way of thinking than the Maine Department of Transportation, which every year manages to make do with inadequate resources.

It’s admirable, except for one thing: The resources actually are inadequate.

Nickel-and-diming safety is a poor way to make decisions, but that’s just what the state has been doing for too long. The age of Maine’s roads and bridges, combined with legislators’ stubborn refusal to raise the gas tax, is delaying needed maintenance and putting people at risk.

Earlier this month, an SUV crashed through a railing on the Bath viaduct, tumbling down to the street below and landing upside down in the bed of a pickup truck. The safety of the railing had been the subject of two inspections since 2014, but recommended repair work had been put off.

A visual examination of the viaduct by a Press Herald reporter revealed over a dozen places where anchor bolts attaching the rail to the bridge were broken or missing, and places where the concrete was cracked and crumbling.


The viaduct is scheduled to be replaced this year, but there are 30 other Maine bridges with the same design, which should be raising alarms throughout the state about the safety of our roads.

Maine DOT engineers have the difficult job of prioritizing maintenance work on the state’s transportation infrastructure. When the department delivered its work plan to the Legislature, it projected a $168 million gap between the cost of the work that needs doing and the money available.

Gaps like that every year are partially filled with state bonds, which have to be repaid by all taxpayers, largely state residents. But even with the borrowed money, there are still a number of projects that are sloughed off from one year to the next.

That kind of budgeting might work for a homeowner, but it’s a dangerous way to operate for a state that needs roads and bridges that can safely move both heavy trucks and light vehicles.

The deficit is created by a gas tax that doesn’t bring in enough to meet Maine’s need. An effort to increase the 30-cent-per-gallon levy was thwarted in the Legislature this year. If they had been able to raise it only 5 cents, Maine would have $35 million more to maintain its roads, with much of it coming from tourists and out-of-state trucking companies.

A modest increase in the gas tax would help, but it would not fix the problem. The gas tax should be based on the state’s actual maintenance needs, not on what some politicians think that their constituents want to pay.

Maine has missed an opportunity to modernize its infrastructure during the recovery from the Great Recession, when interest rates were at historic lows and construction companies hungry for work bid aggressively. It would be a mistake to get further behind by clinging to a 30-cent gas tax.

The DOT deserves credit for finding efficiencies and managing resources. But we are not going to scrimp our way out of this problem.

Letting state infrastructure fall apart is not thrifty – it’s just dumb.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. 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.