MAINE, USA — It's construction season in Maine, and across the state road work continues.
"It’s actually turning out to be a lot easier for them to do the work, because there’s so little traffic," Maine Turnpike Authority Director Peter Mills said.
The Maine Turnpike Authority is currently continuing on with major projects slated to begin in early 2020, like a $28 million lane expansion to I-95 south of Portland.
"We have the money in reserve, and we’re going to complete them," Mills said.
Despite current projects remaining on track, future projects for the Maine Turnpike Authority and the Maine Department of Transportation remain uncertain.
Maine transportation systems are seeing major decreases in revenue amid the coronavirus pandemic. According to Maine DOT Public Information Officer Paul Merrill, I-295 in the greater Portland area has seen a roughly 50% reduction in traffic.
A decrease in cars on the road does allow for road crews to complete work more safely during daylight hours, and more cheaply without the need to pay overnight work premiums. However, that decrease means a drastic loss of gas tax revenue for the MDOT, and another sharp loss in toll revenue for the MTA.
"We are bracing for a significant drop. We’re bracing for about $74 million less than we expected over the next six months," Merrill said.
That is about a 40% reduction in revenue to the MDOT. Over the next 18 months, Merrill says the MDOT expects to receive roughly $150 million less than expected in gas tax revenue.
"What that means is we have to look for help, either from the Federal Government, State Government or both," Merrill said.
Although funds were allocated to Maine as part of the CARES Act, Merrill says that wouldn't be able to be used to offset losses. That would lead to delays and changes in future construction work without adequate funding.
A drop in toll revenue is also something that could impact future MTA projects as well.
"It will have a bearing, possibly, on projects that we would plan to start a year from now, or two years from now," Mills said.
But despite that, Merrill and Mills are both confident they can continue to complete current road projects as funds have already been secured and allocated. They also say all urgent road work will still be able to be complete, but updates, and road improvements may be put on hold if aid isn't provided and revenue doesn't start coming back.