We've got a problem with our roads
First the bad news.
We’re in the middle of the worst recession in 70 years. Okay, so that’s not really news. Neither is belt tightening. Even the state government-believe it or not-has begun to cut back. But before you tighten your belt you need to make sure it’s not around your throat. You don’t start changing the oil in your car every 30,000 miles, for instance. Well, that’s what we’re doing to our roads and railroads.
Here are a few interesting facts about our deteriorating road system courtesy of the Maine Development Foundation report, "The Difference is Night and Day."
On average, each Maine motorist spends $282 a year due to more rapid depreciation, extra repairs, higher fuel usage and increased tire wear caused by deteriorating roads. Annually poor roads cost Maine motorists $263 million statewide.
Roughly one third of the fatal accidents or 65 deaths a year may be attributed directly to poor roads.
Our truckers are losing income because of deteriorating roads, detours and closed bridges. Every hour of delay costs a trucker $350. That in turn increases the cost of products in the marketplace.
Annually Maine DOT posts between 18% and 23% of ALL state highway miles, shutting down many of Maine’s core industries such as pulp and paper, construction, manufactured housing, fuels and forest products, for weeks at a time. Maine has more miles of posted roads than any other state in the nation, decreasing productivity and putting affected industries at a significant competitive disadvantage.
Maine has an aging population, and accident rates among older drivers are high and rising and poor road conditions contribute.
Recent studies have directly linked transportation investment and economic development. Highway access was ranked as more important than taxes or energy costs to businesses looking to locate a new facility. At the River View Resort, which my wife Rene and I have managed for almost fourteen years, we have seen a direct impact as out-of-state visitors cancel planned trips after hearing about or directly experiencing our road conditions.
Maine also has the option of becoming a major player in both passenger and freight rail. Businesses would prefer greater freight rail usage, and the Auburn Intermodal Facility--where rail freight and truck freight interchange--has already streamlined L.L.Bean’s supply chain among others. Upgrading the rail from there to Bethel and beyond will open a huge shipping corridor in the northeast and at the same time bring in as many as hundreds of thousands of new visitors yearly. That’s a lot of bang for the buck.
Roads and railroads are the economic air our state breathes. Yet, rather than maintaining and expanding them we are tightening the belt around our own throats. In this past session the Legislature narrowly voted down bond money much of which was slated for rebuilding and maintaining the roads in western Maine. Everyone knows that we cannot allow our roads to completely deteriorate and that one day soon we will have to fix them. Should we do it now or wait until we have to rebuild them from scratch?
The hard working people of western Maine know that we deserve decent roads again, roads that will support rather than hinder business and jobs. The good news is that we can and will get them. All it takes is the willingness to face up to the problem and work together in a common cause for a change.
The writer is the Democratic candidate for Maine State Representative in District. 91.