Monday, April 23, 2012
WHY ME? Yes I do sympathize, if I do not actually agree with Governor LePage, in his quest to root out waste in government. We really must take a hard look at how we are spending government dollars, and who is making the decisions about how that money is spent. Are we rooted in policies that are protecting the special interests of institutions who should be working for progress rather than feeding off the troth of government taxes? Governor LePage is systematically rooting out unnecessary government agency spending that unfortunately cuts spending on some of our most needy. Which begs the question, have we considered all government agencies? Are there more interests out there that are wasting our money? Consider two recent examples of government spending that are not only not thought out, but both are spending programs from the great society thinking of the “Great Recession”, pre-2008, when resources could be wasted on special interests. The East-West Highway Corridor study and the plan to build a 315-car Interstate 295 Park and Ride in Yarmouth are examples of spending decisions made years (decades) ago by the State of Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT). The supposed to be “privately” funded 2000’ wide east-west corridor across Maine did not make sense when asphalt was relatively inexpensive, and a billion-dollar road for trucks certainly does not make sense with the price of oil in this day and age. The DOT is spending $300,000 on the whim of a few road contractors, when reports show an immediate need for $700 million for existing transportation infrastructure. The Yarmouth Interchange redevelopment is another example of MDOT engineers allowed to run amok designing some hair-brained “multi-model funded” program that will cost over $9 million dollars. This on a problem that could be resolved with just a sign and improved sightline. “But’, they say, ‘this will reduce congestion at the next Yarmouth Exit 17”. So we are spending nine million dollars to improve a section of highway1 ½ miles to the north. If you think this sound wasteful, try driving Route 1 in Yarmouth at the most congested part of any day. You might experience a ½ minute delay. I raise these issues because there is a better way. In fact the MDOT just completed a $1.3 million dollar study evaluating alternatives for a better way. The Joint MDOT/FTA-financed Portland North Alternative Modes Project New Starts study completed in August of 2011 considered 30 alternatives to highway widening. Problem is, MDOT rejected all options for a highway-based bus system that does not meet FTA criteria for funding. Did I mention there was seventy-five million dollars in federal funding available to Maine for any one of the alternatives, except for the one selected by MDOT? That would be $75,000,000 (six zeros). The Governor might take his tight-fisted budget axe across the street to the MDOT headquarters for some real savings, or at least a more sensible use of scarce transportation funds. Our coalition of transportation interests has taken a close look at MDOT spending over the past decade, and evaluated opportunities to save money and/or get a real economic return on our government dollars. Running out of room for this story, if you would like to hear more specifics, go to our site at www.MaineRailTransit.Org and join the conversation.