AUGUSTA — Voters will be asked in November to approve a $100 million state borrowing package that’s meant to continue maintenance and upgrades for Maine’s ever-aging highways and bridges.

The measure, the second for transportation in as many years, would help the state Department of Transportation pull down another $137 million in federal matching funds that would be earmarked for highway and bridge improvements from Fort Kent to Kittery.

There appears to be no formal opposition to the bonding question, and Maine DOT Commissioner David Bernhardt told the Legislature’s budget-writing Appropriations Committee the bond was not “earmarked” for specific projects but integral to an ongoing, long-term plan to maintain and improve transportation infrastructure.

Bernhardt did lay out a tentative work plan for the funding, noting $80 million would go toward highways and bridges, with $24 million of that going toward highways, $4 million going toward partnerships with local municipalities and $52 million going toward bridge projects. The remaining $20 million would go toward multimodal facilities including ports, harbors, rail, aviation, bike-pedestrian paths and transit facilities.

“You will notice that nearly half of this proposed bond funding will be dedicated to replacing and rehabilitating Maine’s bridges and minor spans,” Bernhardt said in his testimony before the committee in April. “The upkeep and safety of these bridges remains our responsibility and a top priority of the department.

This funding plays a key role in our ability to ensure that our customers have a safe, reliable transportation system available to them.”

Bernhardt’s testimony came the same month the MDOT was coming under fire for an accident in Bath that injured a mother and her son when their SUV plunged from a viaduct and landed on the roadway below. It was later discovered the state had failed to repair the viaduct’s guardrails even after an MDOT safety inspection identified missing and broken rail bolts on the span.

The $100 million in bond funds would become part of a $2.2 billion work plan the department has developed for 2016, 2017 and 2018, Bernhardt explained.

Voters last approved borrowing for highways and bridges in 2015, when they supported an $85 million bond issue.

Gov. Paul LePage, who has said he opposes the other five ballot questions before voters, is supportive of the bonding proposal for transportation.

“Transportation is a critical component to our state’s economic vitality. Investments in roads, bridges, ports and rail lines reduce costs to Maine businesses to make them globally competitive and help to create jobs across the state,” LePage said in a prepared statement. “Our administration has proven we get a return on our investment with transportation-related bonds.”

 


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