thumbs down

THUMBS DOWN to the condition of Maine roads, brought to the forefront this week with the return of the Maine Better Transportation Association’s “Worst Road in Maine Contest.”

The association has obvious reasons for holding such a contest — its members earn a living through road construction projects. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have a point.

According to the group, state and federal data shows Maine roads in three categories — major arterials, minor arterials and rural collectors — all lagging national averages in pavement quality. That’s part of the reason the average Mainer pays $296 a year for car maintenance caused by poor roads.

Maine has a number of challenges facing its roads. The state’s road system includes a lot of miles spread out over a large area. Certainly, the weather doesn’t help.

Most of all the state underfunds its transportation projects by about $110 million a year, according to the Department of Transportation.

At a time of prolonged economic trouble, with a general distaste for government spending, Maine is not doing enough to keep its road healthy, and the state’s residents and businesses are suffering.

Maine is not alone. This week the U.S. transportation secretary, Anthony Foxx, is touring the country drumming up support for increased funding. The federal Highway Trust Fund, he says, is almost broke, threatening major projects throughout the country.

The fund is filled through gas taxes, but with people driving fewer miles in vehicles with better gas mileage, the fund is not filling up as fast as in the past.

Speculation is that Congress will use general funds to shore up the fund. But a more permanent fix is needed.

Congress needs to have the political will to fix the gas tax for good, or this problem will come back again and again.

There is a similar issue in Maine. Gas taxes, which make up about two-thirds of the state’s highway fund, were indexed for inflation until 2011 fueling a downward trend in revenue.

The gas tax will have to be addressed, both in Maine and nationally, if there is to be any hope of keeping up with necessary road projects.

THUMBS UP to L.D. 1819, which passed the Legislature and became law this week without the signature of Gov. Paul LePage. The law creates a task force to study issues surrounding student hunger in Maine, where 14.9 percent of households aren’t sure where there next meal will come from. Nearly one in four children are food insecure in Maine, ranking it worst in New England.

A task force is only as good as the legislative action it produces, and addressing student hunger has more to do with addressing poverty in general than anything specific to food.

But Maine has done a poor job utilizing the funding and programs available to make sure kids aren’t forced to learn all day on an empty stomach, and this task force should help show how the state can do better.