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Mainers to Decide Fate of $100M Transportation Bond
10/22/2013   Reported By: Tom Porter

Two weeks from today, on Nov. 5, Maine voters go to the polls. There are no statewide legislative races being decided, but Mainers will be asked to approve several borrowing proposals totaling $150 million. The biggest one is Question 3 - a $100 million transportation bond. Tom Porter reports.

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Maine Department of Transportation spokesman Ted Talbot says $76 million of that will go towards the state's highways and bridges.

"Of that $76 million, $44 million for highway improvements to our priority one, two, and three highways; $27 million for the bridge reconstruction and rehabilitation; and $5 million for what we call our Municipal Partnership Program," Talbot says.

The Municipal Partnership Program is a state-sponsored initiative to give local governments more say in choosing transportation infrastructure projects. As for the remainder of the bond package: "The current plan also has a use of $24 million for what we call multi-modal investments - that's anything from aviation and ports and rail," Talbot says.

This inludes $9 million to provide rail connections and site preparation at the International Marine Terminal in Portland; $4 million to help support Portland's working waterfront, including dredging and capital improvements at the Fish Exchange; and $3 million for other intermodal improvements across the state, such as a project to repair an aging breakwater in Eastport and other local harbor improvement initiatives.

The $100 million bond package also triggers an additional $154 million in federal and other funds. Maine State Chamber of Commerce President Dana Connors describes Question 3 as an economic stimulus package for the state.

"The chamber recognizes the value to our economy," Connors says, "the value in terms of what those projects mean to the livelihood and representing the lifeblood of our communities throughout the state."

Connors says, if approved, the bond package will create thousands of Maine jobs. He points to an economic formula that finds that 28 jobs are directly created for every $1 million invested in highway projects.

"Really, at the end of the day it's a bottom line issue," Connors says. "It's good because it fulfills a need that exists, that doesn't get less expensive with time, it only gets more expensive."

The big hurdle, says Connors, was getting a bond package approved by the Legislature in time to put it on the fall ballot. The package was approved after considerable negotiation between Democratic legislative leaders and Republican Gov. Paul LePage.

Now that it is on the ballot, Maine voters are expected to approve it. Maria Fuentes, president of the Maine Better Transportation Association, points out that it's been more than 40 years since Maine rejected a transportation bond which contained highway funding.

"Roads and bridges are kind of a bread and butter issue," she says. "And I think that Maine voters understand that the state match is necessary to draw down federal funds. But also most people know - you know, they commute, or in their everyday travels - they know a road, especially, that might need some work."

She's not taking voter approval for granted, however, and says the challenge will be getting a high voter turnout. That's because voting patterns show that the more people vote, the greater the support for a transportation bond.

Fuentes says if Maine voters do the unexpected and reject Question 3, "I think the consequences would be dire." She says the state would have to abandon dozens of projects, many of which are already overdue.

The Maine DOT, meanwhile, says even with this bond, the state's core highway and bridge programs still face a funding shortfall of about $110 million per year.

Learn more about the Question 3 bond proposal.

Photo: A view of I-295 northbound in Portland.


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