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

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Q: How do you deal with a corrupt highway bureaucracy?

The Maine Turnpork Authority is getting lots of ink in Maine's newspapers lately:

  • A recent audit by a state watchdog agency discovered that the Turnpork Authority's management burned through a $1.1 food and entertainment tab over a five-year period to 2009. Expenses included limo rides, alcoholic beverages, an "in-room movies" at hotels (and it shouldn't take too much imagination to intuit what a lonely highway engineers are ordering from the Pay Per View channel). Source: Susan Cover of MaineToday Media.

  • The same audit revealed a disconcerting conflict of interest between the Authority and HNTB, the massive engineering firm it pays to "represent bondholder interests." The only problem is, HNTB and its employees also benefit from millions of dollars' worth of Turnpike contracts. Having HNTB represent "bondholder interest" - the interests of people who lend money to the Turnpike - is like asking a compulsive gambler to manage your household finances. Source: Maine Office of Program Effectiveness and Government Oversight.

  • And today, conservative watchdogs at the Maine Heritage Policy Center are raising the alarm that "Total payroll for the agency’s 470 employees grew from $16.8 million in 1998 to $28.8 million in 2010," a 72 percent increase. Mere mortals working in the private sector received payroll increases of 46% over the same time period. Your toll dollars at work! [sources: Bangor Daily News, MPBN]

  • And industry booster Toll Roads News is calling the Turnpork Authority's plan to build a new $50 million tollbooth "improbable" and "by now almost certainly a non-starter." Ouch!
So: how do you deal with a corrupt highway bureaucracy?

You take away their money and reallocate it to efficient, smart growth-oriented commuter transit services. A bill making its way through the State House right now would do that - and it's got bipartisan support, thanks to the bill's strong merits in fiscal responsibility. Both parties can agree that its better to spend $10 million on a regionwide bus service than to spend $100 million on highway widenings we don't really need.

Call your legislators in the State House Transportation Committee and ask them to support the ZOOM bill, as well as a more accountable Maine Turnpike Authority.

No comments: