In the lead editorial of the Portland Press Herald, Maine's leading newspaper takes a look at the balance sheets of the state's two major transportation bureaucracies. Their conclusion is in the editorial's sub-headline:
The Maine Turnpike Authority and other transportation officials have to rethink plans.The newspaper notes that Turnpike traffic is following the trend of car sales and SUV manufacture in a steep decline (previously written about here). This means that the Turnpike Authority and MDOT are collecting less money from tolls and gas taxes: toll revenue, in particular, is "about $546,000 less for this year over last and well below the 2.5 percent increase that had been projected."
"Executive Director Paul Violette is well aware, the trend has long-term implications for transportation planning.We wonder if one of those things might be their $40 million tollbooth? (see also The Decline and Fall of the MTA, Part 1). Certainly their multi-million dollar new headquarters building, which required blasting a rocky hilltop to pricey smithereens out on outer Congress, is still under construction, which means that the new palace passes the MTA's dubious fiscal sniff-tests.
"'We have a shift in the paradigm here,' he says. That shift could translate directly into putting off turnpike expansion projects, something Violette says his board will be discussing in coming months.
"Already, a widening of the turnpike north of the I-295 interchange has been delayed from 2010 to 2015, and Violette says that project and others could be further delayed if fuel prices stay high and people drive less. 'Some of the things we've been looking at could get pushed beyond our 10-year planning window,' he says."
The Press Herald concludes that "The tricky part is that no matter how many cars are on the road, the snow still has to be cleared and old bridges need to be replaced and roads repaved. Look for transportation planning to be a major challenge in Augusta in 2009."
Indeed- the only way to pay for a billion-dollar backlog of maintenance projects is either to raise taxes on drivers, or reduce costs and value-engineer.
And the Maine Turnpike Authority's bureaucratic overhead is an awfully ripe, low-hanging fruit on the cost-cutting side of the equation.