Watchdog group raises questions about Turnpike

It's been a couple of years since the Maine Turnpike Authority had a "posh pike" moment, so we were probably due.

Now a review by the state's accountability office has raised a lengthy list of concerns over the way the authority handles its money, including staff spending on meals, travel, alcohol, limos and pricey hotel rooms.

The report points up again the maddening double standard we have for running highways in this state.

Western Maine communities must pay per mile for their interstate highway connection, while wealthier coastal communities are served by a free system.

Not only that, but we must foot the bill for a Turnpike Authority that travels like kings of the road rather than servants of the people.

But the report by the Maine Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability goes deeper than the occasional pricey dinner and hotel room.

It found that the Turnpike awarded too many no-bid contracts and failed to report all operating expenses to the Legislature as required.

OPEGA found that between 2005 and 2009, the authority spent more than $450,000 on "sponsorships and donations" to various organizations. Of that amount, more than $150,000 was spent on gift certificates "from various hotel chains and restaurants" that were donated to organizations while failing to keep records on those donations.

Some of the recipients were noncharitable organizations in which top MTA officials served on boards or councils.

The report doesn't seem to address the obvious question in our minds — why in the world the Turnpike Authority is using our toll money to make donations at all?

While it is nice that the authority and its officials have generous natures, shouldn't they be making such donations out of their own pockets?

And what exact benefit does a donation produce for the toll-paying public?

As we mentioned, this isn't the first time the MTA has raised eyebrows for its questionable spending.

A Sun Journal story in 2007 reported that the authority spent $26,000 to send five representatives to the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association conference in Vienna, Austria.

The Sun Journal found that other states sent fewer people and for far less money.

The Oklahoma Turnpike Authority, for instance, oversees six times as many miles of highway, but sent only three employees to the same conference for a total of about $6,400.

Other states with far larger systems sent no one at all.

The year before, it was revealed that nine authority managers and advisers were treated to a $1,300 dinner by a consultant who included a $295 bottle of wine.

The MTA was established in 1941 to build a roadway. The road was built and paid for 70 years ago, but the tolls remain.

The Maine DOT has proven capable of maintaining the free section of coastal 295 as well as the free interstate north of Augusta

It is plainly unfair, and an economic development disadvantage, that western Maine doesn't have an equal toll-free system linking its communities.

rrhoades@sunjournal.com

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

What do you think of this story?

Login to post comments

In order to make comments, you must create a subscription.

In order to comment on SunJournal.com, you must hold a valid subscription allowing access to this website. You must use your real name and include the town in which you live in your SunJournal.com profile. To subscribe or link your existing subscription click here.

Login or create an account here.

Our policy prohibits comments that are:

  • Defamatory, abusive, obscene, racist, or otherwise hateful
  • Excessively foul and/or vulgar
  • Inappropriately sexual
  • Baseless personal attacks or otherwise threatening
  • Contain illegal material, or material that infringes on the rights of others
  • Commercial postings attempting to sell a product/item
If you violate this policy, your comment will be removed and your account may be banned from posting comments.

Advertisement

Comments

 's picture

295

Maine DOT capable of maintaining 295?! Wasn't this the same section of road that we had to use millions of stimulus dollars to repair? The Maine DOT hasn't stood a chance because the legislature has continually raided the budget for other programs. The state is very good at wasting money and sending people to Ireland for instance. While the MTA may waste money, at least they are capable of maintaining roads. I'd rather see them completely take over all major highways including RT 302. Then the DOT could spend money on the secondary roads which are crumbling so badly that in the spring, they are almost not passable.

 's picture

Rex...Please read the OPEGA Report

There is a list of donation after donation. The area around page 57 is particularly informative.

OPEGA is a legislative entity. As a citizen, I am already working with legislators to determine what their course of action is going to be. This is far from just a "posh Pike" moment in my opinion, but that's just me.

If this is just swept under the rug, we all lose as citizens. I hope the Sun-Journal drills into the report and talks to legislators, the LePage administration, Baldacci administration officials, MTA officials and prints their reactions to the OPEGA report. Bring them to task and explain these donations and justify how they relate to the operation of a toll road.

Rex Rhoades's picture
staff

OPEGA report

Thanks for the page number, Bob.

Rex Rhoades's picture
staff

Donations

Hi Bob,
Have you seen a list of the donations made by Turnpike officials? Maybe you can point me to that.
We have been highly critical of the Turnpike Commission over the years. Does this editorial sound like we are unwilling to upset the apple cart?
Rex

 's picture

So That's It, Sun-Journal?

If you have a few minutes, read the OPEGA report. It is located here:

http://www.maine.gov/legis/opega/GOC/GOC_meetings/Current_handouts/1-21-...

It is "Corrupt Government Defined."

Over a hundred thousand dollars worth of "gift cards", handed out by the Executive Director, with no documentation as to "who", "when" or "why." Our toll dollars at work.

Contributions, again hundreds of thousands, to hack friends. What the hell does Kit St. John's ultra-leftist Maine Center for Economic Policy have to do with the Maine Turnpike?

The donation list looks like a program for leftist causes in Maine.

I'll bet you the OPEGA report is small peanuts to some of the inside deals that the have taken place behind the scenes. Why do I think that the Democrats tapped the MTA time and time again for their pet projects? Choo choo trains, crafts at West Gardiner, on and on.

What we have here is a big cash cow with no internal regard for oversight, basic accounting controls and disregard for the mission of the turnpike, which is to get people from point A to point B, safely. The board was sound asleep at best, and complicit at worst.

I think the Editorial Board is letting the MTA off the hook lightly because some of their "faves" are involved and we wouldn't want to upset the leftist apple carts, would we, Rex?

We all have a responsibility to contact our legislators and see that they board and management of the MTA is removed...and quickly. It is time the citizenry stand up to this crap and end it.

 's picture

Twice in this report

Western Maine was mentioned. I don't see anything even remotely resembling a turnpike or toll road going through Norway, Rumford, Farmington, Greenville, etc. This is western Maine. Lewiston isn't western Maine.
Ill give you the fact that there is a large amount of fiscal mismanagement going on in the Maine Turnpike Authority that should be looked into by the new administration. I won't hold my breath for it though.

 's picture

How

How are people selected to get on this board, I would love to get some of these perks?

GARY SAVARD's picture

They are appointed is my

They are appointed is my guess and the composition of the board is basically a who's who of politically connected bureaucrats that have zilch knowledge about toll highways and transportation issues. Political favors repaid via appointments, period.

Advertisement

Stay informed — Get the news delivered for free in your inbox.

I'm interested in ...