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Maine DOT leader says new funding needed or roads will "slowly decline"

The work plan includes more than $1.5 billion in road and bridgework, as well as ports and other projects.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The leader of Maine’s Department of transportation said our roads and bridges will continue to get worse unless the state comes up with a plan to increase funding.

Maine DOT Commissioner Bruce Van Note made that statement as he introduced the department’s new, three-year work plan on Tuesday. Speaking about the need for significantly higher funding for DOT’s work, Van Note said,” We are now in a stage of managing a slow decline of our transportation system until commonly agreed upon funding solutions materialize.”

Last year, the DOT had to cancel some of the projects in the work plan because bids came in far higher than expected. Van Note said most of those stalled projects have been included in the new plan, but that costs are still high and bids haven’t come in yet—meaning no assurance the work will happen this year, either.

The work plan includes more than $1.5 billion in road and bridgework, as well as ports and other projects. But Van Note said the plan comes nowhere near to meeting the annual need for work, which he said would cost an additional $235 million each year. The lack of that funding, he and others said, is causing the state to fall farther behind in maintaining the highway system. Paul Kozeill of CPM Constructors, one of Maine’s leading contractors, warned the new plan, and the available money aren’t enough to meet the need. He called on lawmakers to find solutions.

“Many of these same folks fail to appreciate the urgency and immediacy of this problem and do not have the political courage to take the necessary steps to resolve the funding shortfall. There is plenty of energy to talk about the problem but not enough energy to solve the problem.”

Kozeill is a member of a special blue-ribbon commission formed last year to study better ways to pay for highways. At present, most of that money comes from the fuel tax, federal funds and annual, $100 million borrowing packages that must be approved by voters. The Commission is looking at a range of possibilities, including using money from the state General Fund that’s generated by sales taxes on auto sales, repairs and parts. They’re also looking at raising the fuel tax, with members saying a solution will require a mix of several steps. And Commissioner Van Note said it will also need a bipartisan agreement, and soon.

“This level of funding is not sustainable. The system will not fail immediately and Maine DOT will continue to work to avoid serious safety impacts, but holding actions only work for a short time and the reliability of the system will suffer. “

The Commission studying the problem is expected to send recommendations to the Legislature this month.

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