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

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Turnpike for the 21st Century

As you may already be aware, the Maine Alliance for Sustainable Transportation will be holding a small press conference tomorrow morning, 10 a.m., at Portland's City Hall to announce a plan that would re-allocate a small portion of Maine Turnpike toll revenues towards better transit service along the Turnpike corridor, as an alternative to the Turnpike Authority's preferred plan for new highway widenings in Portland.

This plan isn't just about providing more transit options - although that's an important goal and we expect that it will reduce the region's parking subsidies, congestion costs, gasoline expenditures, and road maintenance bills considerably.

It's more about holding the Maine Turnpike Authority more accountable to our state's energy and fiscal responsibilities. That agency, which operates largely outside of the oversight of Maine's elected officials, plans to take out over $100 million in debt to finance a 9-mile widening in west Portland, on a stretch of road where traffic levels have been flat for the past decade.

As an alternative, we're proposing that the Turnpike spend less than one tenth of that amount to expand the successful ZOOM commuter bus service - which operates without any subsidies from state or local governments - to serve more communities with more frequent service, and move more commuters on the infrastructure we already have.

By buying relatively inexpensive buses, instead of costly new pavement, Maine's tollpayers could collectively save tens of millions of dollars every year. That savings could be spent on toll reductions or help contribute to regional road maintenance, instead of on debt service and upkeep on new pavement.

And commuters' savings in gasoline and parking costs could be spent on goods and services in Maine's economy, generating new income and sales tax revenue for the state, instead of being sent away to Texas oil companies.

No matter what happens in November, Maine's legislators and municipal leaders will be searching for ways to repair and maintain Maine's roads for less money. We're pitching this plan now because it makes so much sense in our age of fiscal austerity. Because commuter buses can postpone the need for a nine-figure highway widening, it's a way to expand transit and reduce our energy expenditures while also reducing the cost of government overall.

We hope that you'll consider the idea, and that its merits will eventually earn your support. If you'd like to learn more, please join us tomorrow at City Hall at 10 a.m. as we announce the "Turnpike for the 21st Century" plan to the press. Come join us for your morning coffee break - we'd love to see you there.

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