A Maine Economic Stimulus: Jobs for bridge repairs/replacements

Hancock bridge under repair in Maine. Photo by Ramona du Houx

This legislation directly funds bridge repair and will create 1,200 to 2,000 high-paying jobs all across Maine — Rep.Boyd Marley

Article & Photos by Ramona du Houx

The governor’s bill that invests $160,000 in Maine bridges, in bridge construction and preservation, won broad bipartisan support and was enacted into law. The initiative will supplement current bridge funding of about $70 million per year with an additional $40 million per year over the next four years.

"The tragedy last year in Minneapolis showed the world that we must remain vigilant when it comes to our bridges. We had a team of engineers review our bridge inspection program and funding levels, and they found that we need to make a significant investment," said Governor John Baldacci. "I am gratified by the support this measure has received. It makes sure we can move our people and goods across the state and across the country, and it will put people to work, improving our economy and our infrastructure."

Jamie Hannum, a DOT bridge inspector, checks out the Augusta Bridge

After the results of the Department of Transportation (DOT) report became official in November of 2007 the Governor made finding a way to implement them a priority. The safety and economic importance of maintaining the state’s transportation infrastructure was recognized and the funding was found, despite a national recession and no assistance from the federal government.

"We’re going to use the latest research and development technologies from the University of Maine in composites to be a part of the solution," said the governor. "This should help spur the growing composites industry in Maine while making our bridges safe and secure."

The bill establishes a bridge composites innovation initiative. The DOT working with UM will seek to expand the use of composites technologies in bridge maintenance and capital applications. They will use technology and products to inspect and extend the life of bridges and develop delivery models that expedite the design, rehabilitation and construction of bridges, reduce costs and reduce the impact on the traveling public. Composites developed at UM and funded by voter bonds have already made buildings and bridges stronger, flexible, and more durable.

"The university is doing really exciting work in wood technology. The school is developing wood materials for the military, that are strong enough to protect soldiers in the line of duty, and is the perfect partner for the State in putting that research to use at home," said House Majority Leader Hannah Pingree. "Maine is the most heavily wooded state in the nation, and we can capitalize on that renewable resource to secure our bridges while boosting our economy with a promising industry."

John Buxton, The DOT’s lead bridge maintenance engineer, & DOT Commissioner David Cole listen to Gov. Baldacci insure them that after the DOT bridge report resources will become available for bridge repairs. Photo by Ramona du Houx

PHOTO LEFT: John Buxton, The DOT’s lead bridge maintenance engineer, & DOT Commissioner David Cole listen to Gov. Baldacci insure them that after the DOT bridge report resources will become available for bridge repairs. With this law that has happened

The bridge projects will create high-wage jobs.

"This legislation directly funds bridge repair and will create 1,200 to 2,000 high-paying jobs all across Maine," said Rep.Boyd Marley who cosponsored the governor’s bill with Sen. Dennis Damon. "It impacts every county in the state. It’s great for safety, as well as being a jobs program. This is a real stimulus package."

The law will fund 246 bridge projects around the state, including 80 bridge replacements. Of the 246 projects, about two-thirds of the bridges being improved are currently on the Maine Department of Transportation’s Bridge Watch List. The remainder will prevent bridges from falling into poor condition.

"This is a big step forward in addressing the backlog of aged, deteriorating bridges. This will allow us to manage the situation in an orderly way rather than from crisis to crisis," said DOT Commissioner David Cole. "I believe that the broad bipartisan support is recognition of the importance of the safety but also how important our transportation infrastructure is to our economy."

To pay for the bridge investment, three fees would be increased. The state’s vehicle registration fee would increase from $25 per year to $35 per year; the title fee would increase from $23 per year to $33 per year; and the vanity plate fee would increase from $15 per year to $25 per year. With the modest increases, Maine’s fees will remain at or below those of New Hampshire and the New England average.

The revenue generated by the fees will allow the state to bond $40 million a year for four years.

In addition to funding the necessary bridge work, LD 2324 will boost funding for road improvements. This new law dedicates funding through revenue bonds to repair roads throughout the state.

Gov. Baldacci celebrates the signing of a law that will repair bridges in Maine, creating thousands of new jobs all across the state while using technology developed at UM’s composite center. Here he congradulates Commissioner Dave Cole for his work on the bill and at Maine's Dept. of Transportation Photo by Ramona du Houx

Gov. Baldacci celebrates the signing of a law that will repair bridges in Maine, creating thousands of new jobs all across the state while using technology developed at UM’s composite center. Here he congradulates Commissioner Dave Cole for his work on the bill and at Maine's Dept. of Transportation