When the Legislature adjourned earlier this year without agreeing on a bond proposal for the Department of Transportation, pressure mounted for them to reconvene before the end of August to get that job done so we could vote on it in time for the money to be available next year.

And they did reconvene and support a highway bond. But as is far too typical of our Legislature today, they could not agree on other bond issues, including a very important one to provide funding for broadband expansion in rural areas.

I have wondered for years why it is we have to borrow money to do the essential work on our highways and bridges. Shouldn’t that be a part of our regular budget? I’ll bet if you looked through the entire state budget, you’d find a lot of things that are less important than our highways and bridges.

Maine Transportation Commissioner Bruce Van Note told Portland Press Herald reporter Peter McGuire, “This bond is mission-critical. They have to do it this month or we are going to be in a world of hurt.”

McGuire reported that for five consecutive years we have borrowed money to shore up a chronically underfunded maintenance and repair program for Maine’s aging highways and bridges.

And Commissioner Van Note seems to agree with me. He told McGuire, “Is this really the best way fund transportation programs? I get why people say ‘why are we bonding all the time?’ Right now we appear to be overly reliant on it.” That is really an understatement, Commissioner.

Matt Marks, president and CEO of Associated General Contractors of Maine, told McGuire, “We are so far behind, we are passing this stuff literally months before they have to go out to bid. It is costing the state more to do it this way. Why we decide to do this on an annual basis is beyond me.” It is beyond me, too, Matt.

Today our highways are in horrible shape. When we drove to Lubec and Campobello at the end of June, there was a long section of highway between Milbridge and Machias that is horrendous. And this is not a remote road; it’s a very busy highway.

Last year the DOT paved a section of Route 41 between our house and West Mount Vernon. But already that new pavement has broken up and we bounce along all the way down the road.

The state owns a small bridge over Hopkins Stream in front of our house, and the pavement on that bridge was full of holes. Someone earlier this year filled in some of those holes but not all of them. In the middle of the bridge is a huge hole that people going either way hit. I don’t understand why they didn’t fill in all of the holes.

Up near the Mount Vernon elementary school, a large rock pushed the pavement up quite high in the road.  It was really a huge bump. And it was there for months. Even though the DOT is responsible for this road, our town road commissioner painted the bump so people would see it before they hit it. Finally, a couple weeks ago, they fixed it.

Apparently the DOT had enough money to cut down all the beautiful trees surrounding Augusta’s entrances to and exits from I-95, but not to fix the many highways all over the state that are in very bad shape. I say their priorities are pretty fouled up.

It seems to me the more sensible approach would be to raise the gas tax to generate the funding needed to keep our roads safe and in good condition. It was last raised in 2011. Since then the Legislature has debated fees on electric vehicles, seasonal increases in the gas tax and other ideas, but has been unable to agree on any of them.

They did establish a new commission to consider all the options for funding highway programs. The commission’s report is due in early December. I hope every commission member has to get to their meetings by driving on a bumpy highway.

George Smith can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon 04352, or [email protected] Read more of Smith’s writings at www.georgesmithmaine.com.

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