$30.5 million in federal grants supporting Maine transportation infrastructure

Grants to keep Northern Maine’s railroad going and for to help replace Southern Maine’s Memorial Bridge

By Ramona du Houx

October 17th, 2010

The U.S. Department of Transportation has awarded $30.5 million in federal grants to support two important transportation projects in Maine. As part of the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER II, grant program, the joint effort between Maine and New Hampshire to replace the Memorial Bridge was awarded $20 million. The federal government also awarded $10.5 million to support Maine’s efforts to save the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway, which was threatened with abandonment.

“The Memorial Bridge and the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway are critical to Maine’s economy,” said Governor Baldacci. “These grants will create and protect jobs, support important industries and maintain vital transportation links in Southern and Northern Maine.”

Congresswoman Chellie Pingree has had several conversations with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood about the urgent need to replace the bridge and the secretary called her with the good news. The TIGER II grant program is extremely competitive and only about 3% of the requests are awarded. Only Members of Congress are allowed to lobby the Administration on the applications.

“Anyone who has spent any time in Kittery knows how critically important the Memorial Bridge is,” said Pingree. “I explained that to Secretary LaHood, I told him we need the full $20 million, and he listened.”

Governor Baldacci and Governor John Lynch of New Hampshire have been working collaboratively on plans to replace the Memorial Bridge between Kittery and Portsmouth, N.H., to repair or replace the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge and maintain the Interstate 95 bridge across the Piscataqua River.

“The bridges across the Piscataqua River are the gateways to Maine,” said Governor Baldacci. “Governor Lynch and I have been working closely together to ensure these important bridges are replaced, repaired and maintained. Businesses in Kittery and Portsmouth depend upon the Memorial Bridge. That close connection must be maintained,” Governor Baldacci.

Last week, Governor Baldacci met with Governor Lynch to declare their support to replace the Memorial Bridge, to replace or significantly rehabilitate the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge and to maintain the Piscataqua River Bridge that carries Interstate 95. The estimated capital costs over the next several years could be as high as $300 million for the three jointly owned bridges.

Efforts to save the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway began this spring when the current owners announced their intention to abandon the line, which serves more than 20 companies in Northern Maine.

“Rail is the most economical, most cost effective and environmentally sound way to move wood and finished forest products to market,” said Governor Baldacci. “Ensuring the viability of the rail is essential to the economy of Maine, and that is why the Congressional Delegation, Maine Legislature and my Administration have been working together to save this economic lifeline.”

The State is currently negotiating the purchase of the approximately 240-mile rail line. The purchase will be funded, in part, with proceeds from a $7 million bond approved by voters in June. The $10.5 million grant will fund necessary repairs and maintenance on the railroad.

“I am pleased that they have agreed to our request and will make resources available to help protect the many businesses and jobs that could be affected if freight rail service in northern Maine is lost” said Representative Michaud. “I started meeting with stakeholders and officials from the Department of Transportation on this issue almost a year ago. It’s terrific news that this investment has been approved.”

Michaud is a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, he spoke to Secretary LaHood and the White House earlier this week and pressed the case for approval of the funding.

“These two grants will save jobs, protect important industries and help keep Maine open for business,” concluded Baldacci. “That’s great news.”