TRIP, the national non-profit transportation research group, has conducted research into the road conditions of all 50 states, releasing periodic reports cataloging and analyzing the state of road and bridges. According to a recent report, only seven states ranked higher than Maine in poor road conditions, and eight ranked worse in the category of structurally deficient bridges.
The TRIP report found that 26% of Maine's rural roads have pavement that is in poor condition, while 15% of its rural bridges are considered structurally deficient.
Members of the state legislature, who are facing the same lack of overall funding as the rest of the country, do not see this as a cause of particular concern. “There may be some [roads] that need some upgrades as far as paving and whatnot, but structurally everything is sound,” said Sen. Ron Collins, who is the chairman of the legislature's transportation committee.
Such casual assurance would seem to fly in the face of the overarching concerns that have been wafting out of Washington these last months as Transportation Secretary Foxx has been trying to scare up support for long-term infrastructure investment.
According to MDOT spokesman Ted Talbot, “[e]very state's transportation needs always exceed available funding. That's just a fact. You can talk to any state. What we do is prioritize prioritize our roads, bridges and ports. What we need is double the $70 million [we presently spend] to keep up our bridges safe and extend their lifespan.”
This line of argument, of course, simply circles back to the plan lack of funding hitting all state DOTs. While increasing the gas tax is one possible solution that would target all Maine drivers, it is unlikely to fly with voters or with members of the state legislature, simply because tax increases are politically unpopular. An alternative move would be to increase tolling on select state highways, but not all areas are set up with the infrastructure to put such a system easily into play.
The House recently approved a short-term funding extension, which will now face Senate ratification, where it is expected to pass—if only because something must be done and long-term solutions are not making enough headway. Statistics such as those culled by the TRIP report will persist, say state officials, until sustainable means can be found to address the widespread problem with a widespread solution.