In 2020, Gov. Janet Mills released a survival strategy for the climate emergency, the “Maine Won’t Wait” plan.

In his apparent rush to build a toll highway to Gorham, I find it ironic that the governor’s brother, Peter Mills, executive director of the Maine Turnpike Authority, has emerged as one the state’s biggest threats to meeting those goals. “Maine Won’t Wait” makes the point that Maine’s highways are the state’s biggest source of pollution. Electric cars aren’t coming fast enough to solve this problem: the state also needs to make a 20% reduction in overall traffic on Maine roadways, shifting more trips to transit, walking and biking.

Unfortunately, instead of making transformative investments in buses, broadband, safer streets and downtowns, the state’s highway bureaucrats have largely ignored this mandate. Instead, they continue to spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year building bigger roads to subsidize more traffic.

The latest example of this failure comes from the Maine Turnpike Authority. The Maine Turnpike is already the worst polluter in Vacationland, according to Turnpike annual reports and EPA data. It will be mathematically impossible for Maine to meet its climate goals without major changes to how the Maine Turnpike operates.

Unfortunately, Turnpike leadership appears to be in denial of these facts.

Instead of reducing traffic, the body wants to spend a quarter of a billion dollars of public funds to subsidize even more traffic on a new highway to Gorham – a boondoggle that will considerably increase traffic on connecting roadways and make Mainers’ commutes even longer.


When asked about what his agency is doing to reduce its massive pollution problem, Mills ignores the traffic-reduction mandates of the Maine Won’t Wait plan, and instead responds that they’re installing chargers for electric cars at rest stops.

There are two massive problems with this response. First, it’s a ludicrous deflection of attention away from the real problem. Installing car chargers at rest stops while also planning a massive highway expansion is akin to an oil company telling us that they’re tackling climate change by putting out compost bins in their employee cafeteria. Electric cars are a promising long-term technology, but for now they make up a near-insignificant portion of total traffic on the turnpike. That’s why the Maine Won’t Wait plan demands that the state focus on reducing traffic and improving transit options first.

But there’s an even bigger problem with this approach: it’s emblematic of the state’s incredibly weak leadership in the face of a massive public emergency. In a cynical sense, it makes sense the Turnpike Authority wants to focus on electric cars. It puts the onus of reducing pollution on us – we need to buy new $40,000 cars – in order to deflect attention from the authority’s own responsibility as the state’s biggest polluter.

The climate emergency requires people who can take charge, embrace responsibility and implement real, systemic change. If it wanted to, the Turnpike Authority could take a leading role in slashing the state’s air pollution. If the Turnpike Authority invested in new, frequent-running bus transit services that connect Maine’s biggest cities, the agency could easily eliminate thousands of daily car trips in the turnpike corridor.

Transit alternatives would not only reduce pollution. They would also create massive reductions in regional traffic congestion and save thousands of hours of drivers’ labor every day. Instead of taking bold steps to address its role in the climate crisis, the Turnpike Authority is turning its back on the problem, and exposing all of us to the increasing risks of a hotter, more dangerous climate in the process.

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