The adage, “you can’t get there from here,” must have been first uttered during road construction season.

Dirt is flying in the capital city from Western Avenue to Mount Vernon Avenue to Stone Street. Maine Department of Transportation does its best to ensure that people can get there from here through all levels of construction.

DOT officials and workers understand it can be frustrating; the key is to be patient, be safe and plan ahead. Today’s inconveniences are tomorrow’s benefits.

• Mount Vernon Avenue is being rehabilitated as part of a $4.3 million project that started on July 13 and will continue through June 2016. The work is being done by Pratt & Sons. The project also includes water and sewer improvements, as well as new drainage, new sidewalks and new retaining walls. Work will be allowed Monday through Saturday from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. In mid-August, there will be a well-marked three-month detour.

• Construction of the three-year, $3.8 million project on Western Avenue between Edison Drive and Prescott Road has wrapped up. Work now begins on the section of Western Avenue from Edison Drive to the Western Avenue Rotary. The work necessitates a 30-day closure of the Interstate 95 southbound 109B exit that sends Western Avenue traffic west toward Manchester. The work began at the end of June and involves off-ramp improvements, utility work, removing the existing road surface and paving. Work will be done between 7 p.m. and 6 a.m. Sundays through Fridays. The project, with a bid of $2.2 million, is being done by Lane Construction.

• On Stone Street from about Glenridge Drive to the Cony Circle, starting in early August, DOT will remove and replace the top layers of the roadway. The work will be done by Pike Industries and should be completed before the end of October.

These projects represent just a sampling of the work DOT is doing statewide. The work plan until 2017 has projects with a value of more than $2 billion and includes 1,929 projects planned over the three years. During the current construction season, DOT has 523 capital projects with an estimated cost of $469 million.

Despite the “dirt flying” throughout Maine this summer, the state has an unmet transportation need of about $119 million per year based on goals for our transportation infrastructure that are established in law, and how close we are to reaching them. It is important to note that these are not “pie-in-the-sky” goals but right-sized, “take-care-of-what-you-have” goals.

As a highway design engineer and head of the largest engineering organization in the state, I wish we could do more. It is MaineDOT’s mission to responsibly provide the safest and most reliable transportation system possible, given available resources. Policymakers determine the amount of those resources.

We then do the best we can with what we have by stretching available dollars to focus as much as we can on product, as opposed to process, and to prioritize. This requires hard decisions. The governor recently signed an $85 million transportation bond into law; it will go out to the voters for their approval in November. If this bond proposal is approved, the unmet need will be about $72 million per year.

Investment in our infrastructure benefits Mainers statewide. Everyone in Maine has a “worst road” they must travel. The reality is, those roads create expenses for drivers in the form of repairs. According to TRIP, a national transportation organization based in Washington, D.C., driving on these roads costs Maine motorists $529 million a year in repairs and operating costs of about $525 per motorist.

Investment in our infrastructure also drives our economy. MaineDOT’s annual budget is about $600 million a year. Two-thirds of that funding, $400 million a year, goes out the door to the private sector in the form of contractor work, engineering and other consultant work, and vendor services. A recent study by the Association of General Contractors found that Maine has dropped to 48th in construction job growth. Maine is lucky to have quality contractors with our customer’s best interests in mind. They continuously sharpen their pencils and stretch the dollar, submitting smart, well-calculated bids. More investment is needed.

As people travel our state this summer and enjoy the beauty Maine has to offer, we ask that they be patient with the work they encounter. That work is driving our economy, saving wear and tear on vehicle, and helping them get from there to here.

David Bernhardt, of Vassalboro, is commissioner of the Maine Department of Transportation and a registered professional engineer.


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