November 18, 2019

Bond issues show strong voter support

Though only a scattering of Maine voters bothered to turn out for Tuesday’s election, most of them were in a borrowing mood.

With 84 percent of the state’s precincts reporting, voters clearly favored issuing $48 million in bonds for transportation, environmental and educational programs. If the trend continues, virtually every corner of the state will benefit from the myriad projects.

Topping the list is Question 1, which calls for investing $39.6 million for improvements to ports, highway, rail, air and ferry transportation.

Question 2 calls for $6 million to be used for water pollution projects and to clean up landfills.

Question 3 calls for $5 million to be spent on new equipment for the state’s 27 vocational schools and regional centers.

With 598 of the state’s 663 precincts reporting, Question 1 was storming to victory, with 75 percent of the vote, 88,551 to 30,372. Question 2 was drawing the same strong support, as 78,042 voters were in favor, while 39,078 opposed the measure. Question 3 also was drawing across-the-board support, as 78,347 voted in favor, while 39,858 were opposed. All three were polling at least 66 percent of the vote.

The $36.9 million transportation package will provide funding for port improvements at Mack Point off Searsport, state ferry service upgrades, airport improvements in Portland, Bangor and eight other communities, railroad enhancements in Rockland, Augusta, Calais and other terminals, and more than 50 highway projects across the state.

“We are really pleased with the margin because we really weren’t sure what to expect based on the projections of turnout,” said Maria Fuentes, spokesperson for Keep Maine Moving, the business consortium that pushed its passage. “Typically, Maine people like transportation bonds where there is a lot of road work and a good federal match. We’re really thankful for the people who went out to vote.”

Of the $6 million pollution bond, the largest chunk, $4.5 million, will be directed toward closing landfills to prevent leaks to ground-water aquifers. Of the state’s 400 landfills, approximately 70 remain open. November 1996 was the last time the issue came before the voters. At that time, $9 million was approved.

The $5 million vocational bond marks the first time state voters were asked to support vocational schools by referendum. Denis Howard, president of the Maine Association of Vocational Education Administrators and director of the Waldo County Vocational Center, said the money was needed to provide students and the regions with needed technology.

By approving the transportation bond, voters set in motion a process that will enable the state to use its $37 million commitment to leverage an additional $60 million in federal transportation funds and enable the state to create hundreds of construction jobs.

A key part of the package is a $15 million commitment to build two piers in Searsport for Sprague Energy and the Bangor & Aroostook Railroad. The new piers will have four berths designed to handle modern container ships.

Under the proposal, the state will advance B&A and Sprague the money to modernize the piers. The firms will repay the state’s investment over a 10-year period. That money will be kept in a special account designated for marine-related projects.

The marine construction portion of the bond also commits $2.5 million for money for a new ferry terminal on the island of Vinalhaven; $800,000 for a new ferry terminal parking lot in Lincolnville; and $250,000 for a new state ferry.

The highway, railroad and airport portions of the bond also will result in long-needed improvements.

As planned by the DOT, $9.75 million of the package will be earmarked for local roads and be distributed to communities from one end of the state to the other. An east-west highway transportation study, Route 11 in Aroostook County, and Route 9 in Washington County are among projects that will receive upgrades under the $4.7 million highway reconstruction portion of the bond. All told, more than 50 individual road, bridge and lighting improvements will be funded.

In addition, $2 million will be dedicated to the replacement of 20 buses for the state’s transit systems, and $625,000 will be set aside for the development of park-and-ride lots.

Also, $3.5 million will be matched with federal funds to create a $9.5 million rail program. The state has committed $3.7 million for continued improvements to the Rockland-Brunswick line, $2.3 million for improvements to industrial rail accesses at a number of statewide locations, $2.1 million to renovate the line along the Augusta Lower Road, $1 million for stabilization and preliminary engineering on the Calais branch line and $400,000 for Rail to Trail development along targeted corridors throughout the state’s 300 miles of railroad right of way.

The $1 million dedicated to airport projects will be used to leverage federal and local funds to create a $16.7 million program. A major part of the program will be $10 million for the Portland Jetport; $1.7 for Bangor International Airport; $1.5 million each for Presque Isle Airport and Knox County Airport; and $2 million will be used for airport improvements in Auburn, Augusta, Bar Harbor, Norridgewock, Sanford and Waterville.

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