Twin Cities mayors say toll hike would harm all Western Maine

LEWISTON — A proposed turnpike toll hike is one more example of how economic development is made to suffer in Western Maine, according to Auburn Mayor Jonathan LaBonte.

"The state funds and builds and maintains infrastructure very differently coming to Western Maine than other parts of the state," LaBonte said. "That inequity of public systems and how they are managed has a direct impact on economic growth and opportunity — and it has for decades."

LaBonte, Lewiston Mayor Robert Macdonald and a handful of state and Twin Cities government and economic development officials were at Lewiston City Hall attempting to draw local residents' attention to the proposed toll hike and encourage them to attend Tuesday's plan review, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. in Auburn Hall.

The Sun Journal will present a live webcast of the meeting on sunjournal.com, as well as a live blog.

The Turnpike Authority's current proposal calls for toll increases for the highway's main barrier tolls and a restructuring of rates for E-ZPass holders and commuter discount programs.

But local officials were most upset that the increase seems to fall most heavily on local residents or those trying to come here.

"We are looking at the difference between our way into Portland and everywhere else," LaBonte said. "It's fundamentally different, especially looking at Interstate 295. You have a four-lane free alternative from all directions but from Lewiston-Auburn."

It boosts costs for the area, which can hurt private investment.

"And I can guarantee you, that's cost us economic opportunity over the last generation," LaBonte said.

But Lewiston Mayor Macdonald said the proposal simply made him mad.

"Let's put a human face on this," Macdonald said. "I've talked with members of the immigrant community, and they want jobs. This creates one more barrier for them to get down to the south or the north where the jobs are. And people who already have jobs, you are taking money away from them. It's not just about business."

The increases, expected to bring in an estimated $26 million a year for the Maine Turnpike, is needed to make debt payments due over the next five years. Cash tolls at West Gardiner and New Gloucester tollbooths would increase from $1.75 to $2.50, while the toll at the York booth would go from $2 to $3. Tolls for commercial trucks would increase as well.

Macdonald pointed out that people traveling to or from the Twin Cities pay a greater share. The 29-mile trip from Auburn to the Portland Jetport and back would cost about $6. The 29-mile trip between Lewiston and Augusta and back would cost about $4.

The 27-mile trip between Wells and Portland would cast about $2.50, under the proposal.

"How can anyone look us in the face and say, this is fair?" Macdonald said.

LaBonte said Twin Cities officials are calling on state legislators and Western Maine residents and town officials to fight the increase as well.

"Maine is a less partisan state than it is a geopolitical state," LaBonte said. "Regions of Maine are more dynamic than political parties. That's why we need our legislators in Androscoggin County to work more closely with Franklin and Oxford county to really see what we need to get investment here."

Lewiston-Auburn's legislative delegates began passing a petition Thursday to stop the proposed toll increase now and hope to put future discussions on the state Legislature's agenda in January.

They are also proposing a range of new legislation that would study the effect of tolls on Western Maine economic development, equalize maintenance costs between Interstate 95, the Maine Turnpike, and Interstate 295, the toll-free road through Portland and the Mid-Coast.

"We find these proposed tax hikes to be outrageous and unacceptable and unfair to local businesses and hard-working families," Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, said.

In addition to the Auburn meeting, the authority is hosting meetings in Portland on June 20 and in Saco on June 21. All three meetings will begin at 6:30 p.m.

staylor@sunjournal.com

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Dan MAINE TURNPIKE AUTHORITY's picture

Tuesday meeting

As noted yesterday, The Maine Turnpike is encouraged by the interest expressed by area leaders. The size of the proposed toll increase is necessary, though the details could certainly change as a result of all three public meetings and comments from Turnpike customers and community leaders.

The MTA takes a great deal of pride in working with communities along the mainline of the Turnpike. As a Lewiston native and graduate of Lewiston High School, I am especially proud of the recent development in Lewiston-Auburn. One need only visit the Androscoggin County Chamber of Commerce website for the following, "All the development north of Portland has not gone unnoticed. In fact, as a community, Lewiston-Auburn led the state in economic development expansions and investments in 2006, according to the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development. Lewiston-Auburn finished 2006 with more than $121 million of activity. It marked the second time in four years that L-A led the state in development activity." The Chamber notes that,"the area has attracted numerous distribution and logistics companies that have taken advantage of local transportation and trade amenities."

http://www.androscoggincounty.com/live-work/The-Economy.aspx

The Lewiston Interchange leads to one the one of the largest development projects in the community’s modern history -- the Walmart Distribution Center (largest distribution center in Maine) servicing all New England Walmarts. The quality, safety and timeliness associated with Maine Turnpike operations is certainly a positive contribution as was the southern end widening project. The Maine State Planning office once estimated that, "the project’s secondary impacts, or the so-called “multiplier effect,” would result in the creation of an additional 475 jobs with a combined additional payroll of $11 million. According to the state, these additional jobs at the time were expected to generate an estimated $7.5 million in retail sales, $3.7 million in wholesale sales, and $16.5 million in service expenditures."

We look forward to meeting Tuesday at Auburn City Hall.

Dan Morin
Public Relations Manager & Legislative Liaison
Maine Turnpike Authority

FRANK EARLEY's picture

This is what you call "stuck between a rock and a hard place"

Thank you to Dan Morin for answering my questions yesterday. I understand the per mile charge, and the constrictions involved with the barrier toll set up and the individual toll booth charge at exits.
When this new system was still in the planning stages, I was good friends with many toll collectors from Lewiston to York. There was a lot of concern among the Lewiston, Auburn collectors regarding thier job security. They also agreed that if the new barrier toll was placed south of Auburn, there would be no way to fairly charge everyone the same fee to go from Gray to W Gardner, and Gray to Auburn.
Another factor that I feel should be of concern to local businesses, is the commercial transportation access to the L/A area. Every extra dollar that it costs trucks to bring in goods and food, will inevitably increase the cost to consumers. There is also the Inter-modal station in Auburn. Unfortunately that facility opened after I stopped driving trucks, so I'm not as informed on that as I would like to be. I do know however that they rely on truck transport into and out of the facility. As a consequence they are required to use the turnpike to head north or south, at a lot more cost than if they were traveling from Gardiner south on 95. A lot of trucks coming in from Canada, enter this area via RT 4, It would be much cheaper for them to cross at Jackman, and then be able to bypass a good chunk of turnpike, including L/A for free.
There aren't any easy answers to this problem, I just hope the powers that be, can come to some type of agreement.

Dan MAINE TURNPIKE AUTHORITY's picture

Interesting information and

Interesting information and comments Frank. We've take a look at commercial rates during the toll adjustment process and have spoken at length with staff at the Maine Motor Transport Association. Their perspective along with your former colleague members are vital to Maine as approximately 85% of all good and services arriving to and leaving Maine do so on the Turnpike. Our analysis has revealed Maine's toll rates to be in line with other states in the Northeast. We will continue to work closely with MMTA throughout the entire process and certainly welcome your expertise relative to commercial travel.

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