Transportation Conference Opens In Augusta 

A conference aimed at tackling Maine’s transportation issues kicked off this morning in Augusta.

Roughly 600 people, including industry officials and policy makers, were on-hand for the 63rd Maine Transportation Conference at the Augusta Civic Center.

Governor LePage delivered the opening remarks by touting the hundreds of millions of dollars in bonds recently passed by voters, saying that will help kickstart the construction industry here in Maine.

“So I see your industry, the construction industry next year, poised to have a pretty good year. I think the next three years in construction in the state of Maine is gonna be good.”

The governor also talked about how climate change could actually benefit Maine since polar ice melting has opened up a previously impassable route connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

“This article I was reading is about global warming and what’s global warming doing? Everybody looks at the negative part of global warming but with the ice melting the northern pass has opened up. The new sea traffic is going across the north. And so rather than Maine being at the end of the pipeline we’re at the beginning of the new pipeline,” LePage said.

Building safe and sustainable infrastructure for severe weather events was a major focus of the conference. That means engineers will be in high demand. Currently, Maine ranks 47th in the nation in terms of bachelors degrees earned in engineering, but the University of Maine is poised to turn that around. Dana Humphrey, Dean of the University of Maine College of Engineering, says the program is at record enrollment Dana Humphrey.

“Right now we have about 1,725 undergraduates in our program. It’s bigger than we’ve ever been,” Humphrey said Thursday.

Cynthia Burbank, a transportation expert, delivered the keynote address, talking about the many challenges states like Maine face when it comes to transportation infrastructure, including increasing revenue. Burbank cautioned people not to simply rely on the gas tax as the main revenue stream to pay for transportation expenditures. She talked about new tolls like a mileage based user fee, based on how many miles you drive on state and federal highways.

“It will be challenging but it’s encouraging that in Oregon they have authorized sort of a pilot program,” she told the crowd. “And there’s growing evidence that it can be implemented with much less of an administrative cost than initially thought.”

James Simpson, commissioner of New Jersey’s Department of Transportation under Governor Chris Christie was supposed to speak at the conference. But an issue with his travel forced him to cancel.