A blog for better streets and public spaces in Portland, Maine.

Thursday, November 18, 2010


You've probably seen it - this was the cover story on the Portland Press Herald yesterday:

How Maine missed the bus for a federal transit grant

Maine communities lost a chance to land $20 million from the federal transit system this year, apparently because the state's grant application was incomplete.

State transportation officials said Tuesday that they are trying to figure out how the application for a State of Good Repair grant arrived in Washington by e-mail with a cover letter only.

None of the required supporting documents was received, and a Maine Department of Transportation official said she was unsure if the application was e-mailed without the documents attached or if the attachments were somehow stripped off during transmission.

Kat Beaudoin, who heads the MDOT's Bureau of Transportation Systems Planning, said the state hasn't come to any conclusions.

"We believe that we attached (the supporting documents), but we believe that somewhere in the transmission they got unattached or got lost," she said. "I'm not sure we'll ever know what happened."

It's pretty clear to everyone who reads this what happened. After all, documents don't get "unattached" from emails. This excuse only works if you believe that the Internet is literally a series of tubes, and the document got stuck in the bend of a pipe on its way to Washington. If Beaudoin really wanted to get to the bottom of this, she'd check her "sent mail" folder, and there, she would probably find that the grant application never got attached.

A stupid mistake, and it's one that everyone makes. Unfortunately, in this case, the mistake cost Maine's transit agencies and riders - a group that doesn't exactly have lots of money to spare - $20 million.

I wonder why didn't nobody called Washington to follow up and make sure the application had arrived? I've done this when sending a $100 invoice - surely somebody could have done the same when $20 million was on the line?

But Kat Beaudoin didn't follow up. Neither did her bosses, Commissioner David Cole and Deputy Commissioner Bruce Van Note, who have repeatedly made the claim that Maine should raise gas taxes because their agency is so strapped for cash. So it's easier to raise taxes than to call Washington about your $20 million grant application?

Another person who failed to double-check with Washington was David Redlefsen, the local manager of METRO, which lost $5 million that it could have used to replace Portland's most decrepit bus vehicles.

I'll go out on a limb here and tell you one reason why no one bothered to call and follow up: Kat Beaudoin, and her employees, and even the local managers of local transit agencies, don't themselves rely on public transit to get around in their day-to-day lives. If one of Maine's antique buses breaks down, they won't miss any appointments, they won't be late for work, they won't get home late. What difference do your customers make, when your job is protected by a union, your mistreated customers are working too hard to be politically engaged, and nobody's holding you accountable?

In Augusta, it's way easier to make excuses than to demonstrate competency.

Kat Beaudoin's entire department is at a high risk of being eliminated in Paul Lepage's administration, and this stunt won't do them any favors. That's largely fine with me - Augusta's highway middlemen have not proved themselves of any value in recent years. They're building projects we don't need and meddling with positive local initiatives that would do some good. Unfortunately they're likely to take local transit agencies down with them.

There are all too many places where Beaudoin could go collect a paycheck as an excuse-making professional. Maybe manage the archives at the Nixon Library? Or go defend altar boy-loving priests for the Catholic Church? Or work as Lebron James's new agent? The world of dumb mistakes is your oyster, Kat.


Rob Levin said...

Christian. Although I agree with the gist of your e-mail, and I'm frustrated that Maine DOT screwed this up, I don't think your ad hominem attacks do you much credit, or help to advance the discussion.

Anonymous said...

While the left hand is missing deadlines, the right hand is actively trying to build an 80s style business park with no thoughts towards sustainable transportation. http://mustachegazette.blogspot.com/2010/11/portland-technology-park-promises-to.html

C Neal said...

^ @Rob - while I understand the sentiment, and agree that I could tone it down a notch, I don't think that this qualifies as an "ad hominem" attack. These criticisms relate directly to the professional responsibilities of Beaudoin et alia.