Turnpike determined to ignore fairness

The Maine Turnpike rate increase saga is winding to a conclusion, as unsatisfactory as it may be.

The rate at the New Gloucester toll barrier will likely go up by 50 cents to $2.25, which is slightly less than the $2.50 first proposed. Let’s hear a half-hearted hurrah for that.

But the unfairness of the turnpike’s rate structure remains. What’s more, the inequity of urban interstate access in Maine seems destined to plague Lewiston-Auburn forever.

Consider, for instance, Maine’s largest city, Portland, which has seven free in-town interstate exits along Interstate 295 and four I-95 turnpike exits along its western edge.

Or consider Maine’s third-largest city, Bangor, which has six interstate I-95 exits stretching across its western periphery and two on I-395. All free.

Finally, consider Maine’s second-largest city, Lewiston: one interstate exit at the distant edge of its population base.

Or Auburn, the fifth-largest city in Maine, with another poorly placed exit near its southern periphery.

That’s it. Two interstate exits for about 60,000 residents here, and eight exits for Bangor-Brewer’s 40,000.

What a transportation disadvantage.

Over the years, since the dream of a true circumferential highway died here in the 1970s, the cities have pieced together, largely through necessity, an improved crosstown route via the Veterans Bridge.

But this is a far cry from the kind of benefit I-295 brings to Portland-South Portland or I-95/I-395 brings to Bangor-Brewer.

The evidence of this was highlighted by an informal traffic study the Sun Journal did last week. We found that only 4.7 percent of the traffic getting on the southbound Lewiston turnpike ramp got off in Auburn. Only 4.5 percent of the traffic taking Auburn’s northbound ramp got off in Lewiston.

Basically, the existence of the turnpike does almost nothing to help speed traffic within and between the Twin Cities. Plus, vehicles here must plow through miles of city traffic and red lights to even reach a high-speed interstate ramp.

During recent public meetings held in cities along the turnpike’s route, residents of Biddeford-Saco complained they must pay for travel between their cities while Lewiston-Auburn residents do not.

Actually, when you look at a map, its difficult to see why Biddeford or Saco residents would use the turnpike to travel between their cities. Like in Lewiston-Auburn, the turnpike and its exits are about as far as they can be from their urban cores.

More likely, residents there simply resent paying $1 to get on the turnpike from either exit to go other places.

Before complaining, they should think about this: If they go north to Portland via the turnpike and I-295 using the Maine Mall exit, then return via I-295 and the turnpike, that round trip is $2. And that cost will not change in the turnpike’s new rate structure.

A similar trip from Lewiston-Auburn into downtown Portland costs $5.50. In a few months it will jump to $6.50.

The turnpike brags that its average cost per mile is 4.7 cents if traveling from end to end.

That 36-mile round trip from Biddeford to Portland on the turnpike is slightly higher, 5.55 cents per mile.

But the Auburn-Portland rate will soon be 9.56 cents per mile. That’s higher than the two most expensive turnpikes in the U.S., New Jersey and Pennsylvania, which average 7.7 cents per mile.

That’s crazy.

As the biggest business, shopping and entertainment center in the state, Portland is also the state’s biggest intrastate destination for people living north and south.

And the tolls are much higher to reach that hub from the Lewiston-Auburn area by interstate highway than any other city or region in southern Maine.

Don’t look for this situation to change anytime soon. Much of this inequity is due to a historical quirk: The turnpike was built before the era of federally financed interstates. In other words, we didn’t get one.

But the Maine Turnpike Authority controls what it controls, and it still has a chance to make its toll system fairer.

But it seems determined to ignore that opportunity.

rrhoades@sunjournal.com

The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.

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Comments

Amedeo Lauria's picture

I agree!

Steve, you are EXACTLY right. The toll road concept needs to go away. May of the toll roads have been paid for many times over and now become, in my opinion, a source of either political patronage or the monies are shifted to other places. In Maine we pay sales tax when we buy a car, excise taxes every year on our cars, and taxes with each gas fill up and yet our elected officials STILL can't provide us with non-toll roads. Yet there seemed to be plenty of money for gift-cards and such. My deepest concern is with the quasi-governmental status of the MTA. How much longer will we allowed ourselves to be fleeced! I know the Governor and Treasurer are taking a close look at this, the decision to end this must come sooner than later for the poor "working stiff" who has to pay tolls (tax) every day just to get to and from work.

Steve  Dosh's picture

Turnpike determined to ignore fairness

all , 4;20 HST Thursday
No tolls . Turnpikes are anachronistic . It's an unecesssary tax , Mark , on vehicles . They call them " Freeways " out west
When was the last time someone " Turned the pike , " to let someone pass ? A: ? 1 8 2 6 in Mass-a-two-s*its . " t has its history in the British culture. Centuries ago the roads were privately owned. To pay for them, the owners would staff roadblocks with pikemen to encourage compliance with the posted tariff. If/when you paid, the pikemen would turn their pike away from your path and let you pass. Hence, turnpike. " -- wiki paedia .
Weigh the trucks and tax them for the mis - use and destruction of your roads . That's what those weigh stations are for , after all . Your roads are footed on sand and those huge semi-trailer trucks destroy them . fact . A viable East - West road makes sense . Rt 2. doesn't cut it , nor does 302 - 202 or Rt 16 .
Lastly , Clarie's got it right ? the http://www.traintomaine.com/ , i.e., The Downeaster is the most fuel efficient form of transporting godds and people
:) /s Steve

MARK GRAVEL's picture

Quite your whining

Quite your whining! You either pony up the turnpike fare, raise state taxes to build a new highway, or drive alternative routes. Which choice will cost you more individually? There is no free lunch.

 's picture

No one is "whining" about

No one is "whining" about paying to use the turnpike. People are disagreeing that one area has to pay more to use it then another area of the turnpike. Sorry, I guess we shouldn't disagree with our government (quasi-government or not).

MARK GRAVEL's picture

It is reasonable to assume

It is reasonable to assume the LA to Portland leg sees more traffic than other legs. More traffic, more wear and tear per mile; hence, higher maintenance costs per mile traveled.

MARK GRAVEL's picture

You do have alternatives.

You do have alternatives.

CLAIRE GAMACHE's picture

Just a thought

I read last week that there is a problem with the casino money in Oxford. It goes to the town but has to be spent on costs incurred by the existence of the casino not to lower their budget costs. Maybe they could consider better roads as part of the costs incurred by the traffic coming to the casino. That, or maybe a train route connecting Portland and Bethel going through Oxford. That would not only benefit economic development for the whole area but help bring business to the casino also.

 's picture

I know that there has been

I know that there has been talks about the the Downeaster already planning to eventually go to Bethal through Auburn. One thing I have been trying to get people behind is having an east-west highway going from Brunswick to the New Hampshire border with ramps in Brunswick, Lisbon, Lewiston, Auburn, Mechanic Falls and Oxford. This would benefit not only the casino (moving traffic their quicker and easier), but would also help economically with all other towns/cities attached.

FRANK EARLEY's picture

This should be a no brainer....

Having made many,many trips from Lewiston to Burlington Vermont, I can tell you how much an east west highway would benefit most of New England. Anyone who's ever driven a car to say Berlin N.H. or to Whitfield or on to Littleton N.H in a car. Imagine making that same trip at night in a snow storm driving a loaded tractor trailer. This happens a lot, trust me. In the trip to Burlington, during a snow storm, we were instructed to travel south on Rt. 93, to get to Rt 87 north to Burlington. No one ever did, we took the secondary roads, which is scary. From Lewiston, you don't see interstate until Montpelier VT. Thats a lot of white knuckle driving.....

 's picture

They also forgot to mention

They also forgot to mention the I-195 in Saco maybe small, but is still a free highway. I think it is time that the State looks into building or fixing some of these other routes into state highways. Most other states have their own highway besides the interstate system. When you're the only one in town, you can set your own fee. If you have some sort of competition people will begin to use the better/more affordable option.

 's picture

I guess the state and local

I guess the state and local governments want to keep rebuilding the back roads like 136 from the overflow of drivers, especially 18 wheelers, who are avoiding the new hike.

DANNY FITZSIMMONS's picture

ok tax it!!

Ok lets make it fair lets tax the turnpike area twice the amount of the highest taxed part of the turnpike or more just enough to make them cry Uncle!!! I think they would come back to the table like the following day, or would cry foul lewiston/auburn is placing unfair on us they would tout!!! Lets give em hell!! not a wimper...

Steve  Dosh's picture

Turnpike determined to ignore fairness

ed., 15:40 HST •

Good editorial ? Too little, too late • Lack of foresight . ...

Imagine if there were no tolls at all ?

Yeah , you'd only get all that cheepo NH traffic who don't want to pay tolls and all those Canadian tourists who go through VerrrRrrRrrmont and New Hamster [ sic.] right now

Just i m a g i n e

/s, Steve

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