Gov. LePage seeks public input on merging turnpike authority, DOT
AUGUSTA — Our administration has done a good job bringing accountability to the Maine Turnpike Authority. Mainers are still counting on us to ensure that turnpike revenue is spent as efficiently as possible.
As a state, we must plan long-term and streamline the management of the state’s transportation infrastructure. If the Department of Transportation and the Maine Turnpike Authority merged, there would likely be a number of efficiencies found. This would lower costs for toll payers, while at the same time continue to maintain good roads and bridges.
I recently submitted legislation authorizing the Turnpike Authority to merge with the DOT by 2027 and remove the tolls on the turnpike, with the exception of the York toll facility. However, the Legislature killed this bill without debate, continuing their desire to embrace the status quo.
The estimated cost for DOT to add the 109 miles of highway would be about $46 million annually. The York toll brings in about $60 million a year, and that revenue could be used to operate and maintain the 109 miles. It makes fiscal sense.
My proposal also addressed the turnpike’s nearly $380 million in debt by prohibiting them from future borrowing for 10 years. The balance would then be taken over by the state. The estimated turnpike debt in 10 years would be about $200 million, and my plan would allow for a general obligation bond to pay off the remaining debt.
This is not unlike someone refinancing their mortgage to get a better interest rate.
Furthermore, I believe Maine citizens and businesses along the turnpike are at a disadvantage by having to pay tolls to commute to work or to get their products to market.
A major issue is the rising cost of food in Maine. Maine residents spend, on average, about 34 percent more on food than folks from other states. In addition, Mainers pay more per capita than all other states, except Vermont and Alaska, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.
Transportation costs are a huge factor. Experts say about 80 percent of the food sold here comes across our border.
Tolls increase trucking costs, which results in higher consumer prices. And because our energy costs are high, most of the food produced here is sent elsewhere for further processing.
That increases the cost of food and the cost of transportation for any product sourced from the Northeast, then sent back after processing.
Our transportation infrastructure is critical to Maine’s economy and our way of life. Merging the Maine Turnpike Authority with the Department of Transportation is an example of how government can work together to achieve the same—if not better quality—results.
Major transportation corridors like the turnpike should be part of DOT and operated as one statewide transportation system. This would ease the toll burden on business and Mainers, while still ensuring we have safe and well-maintained roads.
We already know the Legislature wants to keep the tolls along the turnpike. By stifling debate, they made sure Maine people and businesses had no opportunity to weigh in. Do you want to keep the tolls or significantly reduce them?
Send a note with your thoughts to our office at 1 State House Station, Augusta.
Paul R. LePage is the second-term Republican governor of Maine.