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Road hog

Bulldozing the Maine Better Transportation Association
By AL DIAMON  |  October 21, 2009

You probably live on a lousy road.

I make that assumption not because you look like the sort of crack-in-the-asphalt lowlife that would only be welcome someplace with potholes, pot farms, and neighbors who are being sought for questioning by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms -- in short, a road that hasn't been repaved since the last time Republicans held a majority in the Maine House of Representatives (1066 AD, I think).

No, I assume you live on a lousy road because damn near every road in this state is a lousy road. That's not just an opinion I've formed after suffering concussions, spinal misalignment, and (worst of all) spilled beverages due to traveling on throughways designed either for ox carts or armored personnel carriers. Instead, I base my dim view of the transportation infrastructure on what is clearly an objective assessment -- funded mostly by contractors who make their livings fixing lousy roads.

In July, the Maine Development Foundation (motto: If You've Got The Money, We've Got A Report That'll Say Anything You Want It To Say) released a study that concluded the state's roads were in dire need of upgrading. The study was paid for by the Maine Better Transportation Association, which is the official name of what's usually referred to as the sand-and-gravel crowd.

The report argues that the state should fund the construction of modern highways leading everywhere from the top of Mount Katahdin to the bottom of Moosehead Lake, in order to reduce car repairs and accidents. As the study notes, the number of armored-personnel-carrier crashes is at historic highs, and the price of maintaining an ox cart ain't hay. Although, technically, I suppose it is.

Adding weight to the bulldozer boys' arguments is the decline in state gasoline-tax revenues, which you've heard so much about, even way down your crappy road. That money is supposed to pay for repaving or rebuilding about 600 miles of highway a year, but in 2009, the Maine Department of Transportation says there's only enough cash to maintain 230 miles. That's because the gas tax, which brought in about $225 million in 2008, declined this year to an estimated $230 million.

Uh . . . wait.

The amount of tax is going up? And the amount of paving is going down? Who's handling the books? Bernie Madoff?

No, I believe Bernie does the accounting for the state Department of Health and Human Services. DOT uses the same financial experts as Circuit City did, before it went out of business.

That may explain how the state came to cancel 75 percent of its road repairs this year and all of them for next year. Although it doesn't exactly clear up how that could happen at the same time Maine's transportation department was busy fixing up highways and bridges using $131 million in federal stimulus funds.

State officials explained that those fed-funded projects were different from the ones that got cancelled. They were different because they were funded, and the other ones weren't. Got it?

All of which brings us to an overlooked item on the November ballot. Question 6 reads, "Do you want to authorize the state to issue bonds in the amount of $71,250,000 to fund same-sex marriages at highway rest areas and under some bridge abutments?"

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