July | August 2017



 

by Kelley Arnold
Maine state Rep. Andrew McLean serves as the 2017–2018 co-chair of The Council of State Governments’ National Transportation & Infrastructure Public Policy Committee. McLean, a 2015 CSG Henry Toll Fellow, believes adequate infrastructure funding is essential to not only maintain roads and bridges, but also to protect pedestrians, promote livable downtown communities, regulate new technologies and protect ports and railroads.

1. What are the most important infrastructure issues facing states today?

“Oftentimes, more money is not a solution to a problem. In the case of infrastructure, more money is the answer. Simply put, we are not spending enough to maintain, much less improve, the condition of our infrastructure and it is costing us. … When our country had less means than we have today, we came together to build the transcontinental railroad, the Hoover Dam and the interstate highway system. We did it because we believed that, collectively, we could do great things that improved the lives of average Americans. Indeed, we did improve lives. We need to regain this spirit of collective investment for the common good. We need a comprehensive transportation investment program that fully funds our transportation system and looks to the future by incorporating technological and transportation advances with which we will fuel the remainder of this century.”
 

2. What do you hope to see in the 2018 federal budget regarding transportation
and infrastructure?

“The federal government needs to take the lead in developing and passing a comprehensive transportation funding bill. This must include enough revenue to fix our roads and bridges. In addition, it should include funding for our other modes of transportation—air, rail, sea and transit. These are critical elements of our transportation system often overlooked because we are focused on just maintaining our roads and bridges. The most recent budget also proposed the elimination of critical federal programs including TIGER grants and the Essential Air Services, or EAS, program. TIGER grants are important competitive grants based on projects showing significant economic and community value and potential. … EAS is critical for rural states, such as Maine, because it maintains commercial air service in rural regions, keeping these communities connected to the nation’s economy. I hope programs like these remain in the budget.”
 

3. What responsibilities should state and federal governments each have
in infrastructure planning and maintenance?

“State governments have the responsibility to implement a well-engineered plan that best suits individual states, but the federal government has—and should continue to have—the responsibility to ensure the connectedness of our national transportation system. … It would be burdensome to have 50 different rules and programs governing our transportation system. For this reason, the federal government must play a significant role in the planning and operation of our transportation network and strike an appropriate balance by allowing states to identify their critical needs. This partnership will ensure the nation has a viable and efficient multi-modal transportation system.”

4. What roles do you see public-private partnerships having in Maine’s ability
to complete future critical infrastructure projects?

“Public-private partnerships, or P3s, mean many different things to many different people. It can be as simple as a public agency combining funding with a private firm to complete a project. Other times, it can be an intricate process that involves the design, construction and financing of a project. … P3s do not represent an alternative way to fund infrastructure, they should be considered a ‘tool in the toolbox.’ We are still going to have to pay for the ongoing construction, maintenance and operation of our infrastructure. … We cannot rely on private industry to finance our way out of this crisis. Our infrastructure is public infrastructure for a reason because the public relies on its maintenance and operation.”
 

5. Like many states, Maine is attempting to balance the costs of deferred and current infrastructure maintenance while also expanding services and spurring innovation. How will your state find a balance?

“When the Maine Department of Transportation publishes their annual work plan, they outline the current funding and what is still needed to maintain our infrastructure. Annually, that gap ranges between $160–200 million. For some states, that is a drop in the bucket, but for Maine that is a significant amount. Every single year, Maine is accumulating $160–200 million in deferred maintenance. That is unsustainable and it hinders economic growth. We can debate how much we should be spending above and beyond what is necessary to maintain our infrastructure, but when we are not taking care of what we have, there is no balance. We will never be able to fix every road in Maine nor will we be able to fund every transportation project we would like. We must, however, find the resources to take care of what we have and fix our roads and bridges or we will continue to see stagnant economic growth and a rise in safety concerns.”

6. In terms of citizen safety, what do you feel is the most neglected piece of
infrastructure by state governments?

“Chronic underfunding of our roads and bridges poses significant safety concerns. We need to address them by finding the money to fix them. Distracted driving also poses a significant risk to the public. We often get distracted with our phones or car gadgets and forget that when we’re behind the wheel our sole focus should be on driving to our destination. … Lastly, pedestrian safety has also become an issue in Maine. … We have seen a significant increase in the number of injuries and even deaths on our roadways. When we talk about infrastructure, we are not talking about roads and bridges alone, or even railroads, airports and seaports. Our infrastructure also includes our sidewalks, pedestrian and traffic safety devices. … We often forget that these elements are also critical components of a safe and efficient transportation system and should be properly funded.”
 

7. The American Society of Civil Engineers 2016 State Report Card gave Maine a C-minus rating. What do you think it will take to get Maine to an A rating?

“Money, money, money. More money will, without question, lead to a higher ASCE rating. The Maine DOT has found every possible efficiency to operations and delivery of services imaginable and they will continue to think in creative and cost-saving ways. Maine, like every other state, will never be able to fix every piece of infrastructure and bring it to an A rating, but we must find the resources to take care of what we have. Six years ago, the legislature passed what we refer to as the ‘Statutory Goals.’… Those goals, based on current funding, are not going to be met by the time set in statute. This makes improving our ‘grades’ a very difficult task. … With increased funding, we have a chance to improve our grade and there are several pieces of legislation I have introduced this session to help us do that.”
 

8. Where do you see positive improvements in your state’s transportation and infrastructure planning?

“Maine has not raised additional revenue for transportation infrastructure in many years, but the Maine DOT’s ability to stretch the dollar has never been better. New design, engineering and financing processes have been put in place to ensure we are getting the best deal for every project. … While the Transportation Committee has jurisdiction over the budget, we leave it to the engineers at the department to figure out which infrastructure components need to be fixed and when; it’s an engineering plan, not a political plan. … New reports, including the Keeping Our Bridges Safe Report and the Roads Report as well as the Port and Rail Plan have all laid out a strategic plan for our infrastructure, from funding to maintenance to ongoing operations. This is the kind of planning our transportation infrastructure needs and I am proud of the work our DOT has done to put this together.”

9. What transportation innovation are you most excited about for the citizens in your state?

“New technology is transforming the way we think about moving people and goods. Transportation network companies, or TNCs, like Uber and Lyft have provided more competition and more choice for consumers who are looking at transportation options. This new on-demand technology has also created more transit options, providing a means for seniors, for example, to get to medical appointments or social activities when there was not a way previously. DOTs across the country are looking at ways to collaborate with TNCs. Autonomous vehicles represent new and exciting technology that is already being implemented across the country. It will be fascinating to watch this develop over time.”
 

10. As the chair of your state’s Joint Standing Committee on Transportation, what advice would you give a new legislative committee chair?

“In my view, we have one of the best, if not the best committee in the Maine Legislature. We often refer to ourselves as ‘T’s, not Republicans or Democrats, because while we may have different views on many issues, the best interest of our transportation system is always front and center. Over the next few decades there will be many new changes to how we fund our infrastructure. This is an area in which our country needs leadership. … Our states are creative places and can—and should
—serve as incubators for new ideas and new ways of doing things.
We need not be afraid of proposing legislation that is an untried idea. Every policy solution ever found was, at some point, a new idea.”