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

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Highways and their Bureacracies are broken

The League of Young Voters sponsored a panel discussion on transportation issues last night, and it was very well attended for such a wonky topic. I'd guess at least 30 people were there, plus a number of journalists.

One of the panelists was East Deering state representative Boyd Marley, whom we're lucky to have representing us as the chair of the Legislature's transportation committee. A lot of questions zeroed in on him, since it's clear that a lot of the funding and design problems we experience in Portland originate at the state level.

As I've argued previously, Maine's Department of Transportation (MDOT) is in the middle of a funding crisis: it can't afford to maintain the infrastructure we have. Yet at the same time, the out-of-touch bureaucracies at MDOT and the independent Maine Turnpike Authority are engaged in planning new highways that will cost hundreds of millions of dollars we don't have, and these agencies have a time-warped internal culture that works in wholesale ignorance of the new realities of global warming and $3/gallon gasoline.

Whether you're an independent trucker in the north woods or a Main Street entrepreneur of the new creative class, Maine's inefficient, stone-age transportation bureaucracies are sandbagging our economic future by failing to acknowledge the new constraints and opportunities of the 21st century. This has got to change - but how?

Boyd referred to the problems of negotiating with rural legislators, who have a strong desire for highways (and strong connections to sand and gravel lobbyists).

But this funding crisis affects rural roads, too. The entire state, rural and urban, needs a solution, and part of that solution should provide alternative, more cost-efficient transportation solutions where they are appropriate. Rural Maine will always demand highways, but if MDOT continues to waste money on expensive and ineffective road expansions in greater Portland when alternatives are both feasible and strongly desired, rural Maine's highways and bridges will continue to be strapped for funding. The status quo is a lose-lose proposition.

The Governor has come up with one promising idea, even if his staff at MDOT and the Turnpike Authority are out-of-touch space cadets: consolidate the Turnpike Authority with MDOT so that there is one unified transportation agency for the state. This idea hasn't gained much traction so far, but it would carry much more political support if it also provided for the transportation alternatives that Mainers want and need. When we consolidate the Turnpike Authority, the Legislature should set aside a dedicated portion of Turnpike toll revenue to fund the DownEaster's operating shortfall and expanded commuter bus and vanpool services throughout the Turnpike corridor.

But Maine's transportation agencies need more than consolidation: they need to be gutted completely and built anew to reflect the new realities of the twenty-first century. Let's give our Legislators the strong grassroots support they need to move forward with a bold, long-term solution. Give them a call or an e-mail:

Senator Dennis Damon, Hancock County, co-chair of the Transportation Committee:
dsdamon {at} panax.com, 667-9629
Rep. Boyd Marley, Portland, co-chair:
abspmarley{at}verizon.net, 838-2450
Sen. Bill Diamond, Windham, member of the Trans. Committee:
diamondhollyd [at] aol.com, 892-8941
Rep. Ann Peoples, Westbrook, member of the Trans. Committee:
annpeoples116 [at] msn.com, 856-7264
Rep. George Hogan Sr., OOB, member of the Trans. Committee:
ghogan [at] gwi.net, 934-4292
Rep. Glenn Cummings, Portland, speaker of the House:
gcforleg at yahoo.com, 287-1300
Rep. Jon Hinck, Portland West End:
repjon.hinck [at]legislature.maine.gov, 874-7407
Rep. Anne Rand, Portland East End:
rndanne at aol.com, 773-8198
Rep. Anne Haskell, Stroudwater and Rosemont:
annehask[at] maine.rr.com, 871-5808
Sen. Ethan Strimling, Portland:
senstrimling [at] mainesenate.org, 775-0105


RobertWagner said...

I wanted to send this to you, Christian, as a private email, but I couldn't figure out how to do it. (I'm new to blogging.)

I've been working for over 10 years as a private citizen on transportation issues. I've served on PACTS Planning and Technical committees in the past. I now attend the PACTS Transit Committee meetings quite regularly, and I served on the committee that drafted the recently-approved PACTS Transit Coordination Study.

My focus is the expansion of commuter transit service from the suburbs as the only viable means of ameliorating our growing transportation problems. Of course, funding is the most serious problem for all of Maine's transportation problems, but I believe that it eventually can be achieved by raising the gas tax and making sure that all highway/bridge transportation costs are covered by this tax, hopefully freeing up general fund money for subsidizing transit.

I have a somewhat out-of-date "pre-blog" website on these issuesat http://home.gwi.net/~rwagner/volunteer.html.

I'd like to work with you or anyone else in the region in order to get regional transit development moving.


Ethan Davis said...

Hi Christian,
I read about your efforts regarding the list of transportation initiatives in Portland and surrounding areas. It took me awhile to find, but here is a Youtube clip of a talk by Richard Heinberg, peak oil educator that is relevant to this situation: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hVDH42qQaWc
He starts talking about it at 2:40 into the clip.
The essence of it is how truly insane it is to continue to focus on the least efficient fossil fuel based transporation infrastructure in light of what is just around the corner wrt fossil fuels.

Keep up the good work!
-Ethan Davis

FJHeller said...

I am promoting the restoration of commuter rail service using BUDD RDS commuter cars that have been rehabilitated by a Moncton rail service company---convenient, because they can be ‘driven’ to Maine. Goto http://www.industrialrail.ca/services.php#rrdcu to see how they recondition one of these cars.
---P.s. I have absolutely no financial interest in Industrial Rail; but I do see a fantastic opportunity to have commuter rail running this spring, quickly and with well-built and proven light rail technology.

This proposal is an outgrowth of an interview by John McDonald and subsequent on-air conversation with Phil Harriman and Barbara Merrill, on WGAN last Saturday; and put into a proposal sent to Steve Linnell last week.

The current subsidy would be ended; putting the ‘ball’ in the laps of the N.H. and Mass. Legislature to see if they want to terminate the ‘DOWNEASTER’…so far only Maine has subsidized it; in effect, giving their many commuters to Boston a ‘free ride’ at our expense.

As a replacement, Maine would buy or invite a private rail company or encourage the formation of a private/quasi-public commuter rail company to acquire enough of the cars and a maintenance facility to restore service from Portland to Brunswick and in turn to Augusta, and if ridership merits, to Lewiston, Rockland and Bangor.

Commuter service would be established from Portland to Portsmouth to connect with AMTRAK—since the bulk of the ridership is from Portsmouth to Boston, these two states and the City will continue the service..

The alternative is to continue to be dependent on AMTRAK and Guilford; deny much of the State service; and let those expensive track improvements—esp. from Brunswick to Hallowell, deteriorate.

With my proposal Maine would save money and establish much better in-state commuter rail service. The BUDD cars are in excellent condition and their diesel bus engines can be converted to run bio-diesel or bio-gas made in Maine!

Put Maine on the road to BOTH energy and transportation self-sufficiency

Katahdin Energy Works
12 Belmont Street
Brunswick, Maine 04011-3004
(207) 729 6090
MANURE2ENERGY anaerobic digesters for home and farm