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

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Fuel efficiency is a tax cut.

A recent op-ed from Jane West of the Conservation Law Foundation and car dealer Adam Lee has some mind-boggling statistics relating to the stricter fuel economy standards that Maine has long fought for, and finally won this year:

In the Greater Portland area, transportation accounts for nearly half of our energy use, carbon emissions and costs, to the tune of over $450 million on gasoline and $140 million on diesel fuel. This dwarfs the $224 million that the region spends on heating oil every year.

...the Obama administration’s new fuel economy and emissions standards for America’s cars are welcome news. For those of us here in Maine, the “clean cars program” will save 57 million gallons of gasoline, the equivalent of permanently removing 105,550 cars from our roads. The savings to our wallets will be $157 million dollars at the pump.

Put another way, if people who bought cars last year from the Lee family of auto dealerships alone got another 10 miles per gallon better fuel economy, they would be able to save 1.2 million gallons of gasoline, or more than $3.5 million at today’s prices.
Saving $150 million a year is roughly equivalent to $100 for every man, woman, and child in the state. Still, Maine households are spending WAY too much on their cars, and fuel efficiency is only part of the solution. People need a lot more opportunities to drive less.

Not mentioned in these statistics: by not burning 57 million gallons of gasoline each year, Mainers are also getting out of paying $27 million in gas taxes every year to the Department of Transportation. Highway-building bureaucrats might want to retire now while they still have their cushy pensions.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Question 3: "Jobs Bond" or Highway Bailout?

A friend asked me today about my opinion on the state's revised bonding proposal, which proposes to borrow, with voters' approval in the June election, about $48 million for transportation projects.

I wrote about this on this blog a few weeks ago
, when Augusta Democrats had proposed a much larger, and much more highway-focused bond package. They'd euphemistically called it a "jobs bond," even though highway construction jobs are notoriously low-value and short-lived.

The Bangor Daily News has a good rundown of last-minute negotiations that reduced the size of the borrowing package. The new, scaled-back proposal includes:

  • $25 million for highway maintenance and construction statewide.
  • $9 million for rail improvements in Lewiston and to restore the Mountain Division rail line between Portland and Fryeburg.
  • $7 million (to be paired with another $7 million from the state's General Fund) to bail out the Montreal, Maine, and Atlantic railroad in Aroostook County.
  • $6.5 million for Ocean Gateway, a deep-water cruise ship berth in Portland that will require an additional $1.5 million in local funds.
This year's bond package will also include these non-transportation items:
  • $5 million for development of offshore wind power.
  • $5 million for a new dental school and dental care programs in rural Maine.
Here's what I can say about this bond package that's positive: it's smaller than it might have been, and it gives greater weight than usual to non-highway transportation, particularly railroads. The (smaller) investments to the Lewiston and Mountain Division railroads could put those lines in a condition that's one step closer to accommodating commuter trains or Amtrak.

However, most of the rail money will be earmarked for the state to purchase a financially marginal line in far-northern Maine - a railroad that's been put out of business in large part because of the state's long history of subsidizing highways.

The state purchase of the Montreal, Maine, and Atlantic Railroad will also require an additional $7 million from the state's cash-strapped General Fund - the same pot of money that's supposed to finance social services and schools. Even as a rail advocate, I have a hard time swallowing the idea that we should be throwing the mentally ill out on the street in order to bail out a rail line through the North Woods. Even Rep. Josh Tardy, whose district is within striking distance of the line, is questioning the wisdom of this expense.

Unless you count the additional cruise ships that Portland might see, none of these projects will create any new transit services for the people of Maine, even though gas prices are creeping up towards $3/gallon again.

Instead of building the transit infrastructure we actually need, we're only treading water, trying desperately to sustain an obsolete infrastructure that's increasingly unsustainable.

One of the biggest ironies is that state lawmakers are still trying to sell this as a "jobs bond." But if we want to create high-value jobs that last longer than a single construction season, why can't we invest in research and development bonds, or industrial cluster grants, or any of the numerous economic development programs that have been proven to be more effective job-creators?

For the past few years, I've been voting "no" on the transportation bonds - a small protest vote against the Maine Department of Transportation's mismanagement. They haven't registered my protests yet - but maybe if a few thousand of my fellow citizens join me, they'll get the message.

Read more about the bond package:


From BallotPedia

From the Kennebec Journal

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Running for Bayside/Parkside

At the urging of some of my neighbors, I have undertaken a bid for Maine's State House, to represent District 119 (the Bayside and Parkside neighborhoods) when Rep. Herb Adams retires this year.

If you read this blog, you're probably familiar with where I stand on a lot of issues. Obviously, making the Maine Dept. of Transportation more considerate and proactive about sustainable modes of transportation is a big goal of mine. But I'm also interested in doing more to cultivaqte small businesses as an economic development strategy, promoting more walkable downtown development in Maine's smaller villages and Main Street areas, and doing more to support immigrant populations in our neighborhood and across the state.

In order to have a fighting chance, I need to collect 60 $5 contributions in one week, in order to qualify for the state's Clean Elections Funding. These contributions all have to come from the Bayside, Parkside, and East Bayside neighborhoods. So if you're my neighbor, PLEASE go to the state's secure website and make a contribution online:

Even more importantly (because I definitely need help with this), if you know anyone else who lives in Bayside or Parkside, please vouch for me and ask them to chip in five bucks as well.

Thanks, readers!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The New Library

One of my favorite buildings and public spaces in the city is almost finished its year-long renovation project. I am very excited.

Even better, the revitalization of the library should do a lot towards making Monument Square a much more vibrant public space as well.