A Bad Path to Get to the East-West Highway

By State Senator Bill Diamond

An East-West Highway across northern Maine has been talked about for as long as I can remember, and the issue is before us again in the legislature.

I want to be clear up front, today I will not be addressing the issue of whether such a highway is a good idea. I will, however, take this opportunity to state my opposition to the current proposal to take state dollars to do a feasibility study for what would end up being a private business venture. For this is exactly what LD 1671, “An Act To Provide Funding to the Department of Transportation for a Feasibility Study of an East-West Highway” calls for.

I have several problems with this approach. First and foremost, I don’t see how we can justify spending state dollars for a project like this at a time when we are cutting back on everything across the state budget. Initially, the bill called for using general fund dollars to fund the study, but this was changed in committee, and the bill now proposes using highway fund money instead. On the surface this seems more reasonable, but the highway fund faces serious challenges as well. A recent report from the state Revenue Forecasting Committee predicts lower revenues from the gas tax (the largest source of highway fund money) due to higher gas prices and cars that get higher MPG (miles per gallon). With the highway fund revenues dwindling, and with the DOT having trouble keeping our existing roads maintained, this is not an acceptable use of this money.

The amendment is also open-ended about the cost of the study. It estimates $300,000, but there is no limit to the study cost, and no mechanism in the bill to limit the scope of the study. Passing this bill as it is almost amounts to writing a blank check.

Then, there is the lack of specificity in the study itself. It calls for the DOT to “facilitate and oversee an independent investment-grade traffic and revenue analysis.” This is so vague as to be almost meaningless.

Additionally, this study would quite probably end up being redundant. A project like the East-West Highway has an estimated cost of about $1 billion. Any private venture of this size would surely insist on doing a feasibility study of their own before investing in a project of this scope and scale. Any money and effort spent on this study would most likely end up being wasted when the whole process was repeated by the investors.

There are just too many questions and problems with this bill as it now stands. Again, it’s not about the East-West Highway, it’s about the use of state taxpayer dollars to fund a study for private developers.

I enjoy hearing your feedback, so if you have any thoughts on this, or if you have any problems with the state, please contact me. You can reach me at my office at the State House at 287-1515 or visit my website at www.mainesenate.org/diamond to send me an e-mail.

Senator Bill Diamond is a resident of Windham, and serves the District 12 communities of Casco, Frye Island, Raymond, Standish, Windham and Hollis.

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