Regrettably, sensationalized sound bites trump thorough, balanced reporting. Such is the case with the Sun Journal’s Feb. 1 editorial regarding the Maine Turnpike Authority audit conducted by the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability.

The Sun Journal editorial board may not have read the OPEGA report carefully. If they had, they would have found a largely positive assessment of the MTA on issues ranging from debt level, consistently high-level bond ratings, operating surplus and construction services procurement, to accounting principles, agency oversight and governance.

Since 1994, the MTA has given the state $137.4 million and undertook cooperative projects with Maine DOT for another $57.9 million. All told, turnpike toll revenues have provided more that $195.4 million to MDOT and the state of Maine during that time.

Granted, OPEGA noted some areas for improvement, particularly with regard to expenses and contracting for professional services. I’m happy to say the MTA has already taken steps to address those issues and will continue to focus on making substantive, systemic changes in the months and years ahead.

In fact, a detailed action plan specifically addressing OPEGA’s recommendations was included in the MTA’s response portion of the report. Unfortunately, no mention of the MTA’s proposed corrective actions — and OPEGA’s subsequent endorsement — was included in the editorial.

To help set the record straight, I offer the following excerpts from the report’s conclusion:

“Not all of the (MTA’s) proposed actions exactly mirror OPEGA’s recommendations, but in our opinion they are reasonable, both in scope and time frame, for addressing the issues we have raised.”

“We note that some actions being taken by MTA go beyond the scope of OPEGA’s recommendations and will provide for additional improvements and efficiencies,” the report continues. “We see this as an indication that MTA is truly interested in fully integrating the changes in a way that impacts MTA’s culture and makes it a stronger organization.”

Even with tolls, the turnpike provides an economic development advantage to this region.

In my role as head of the Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth Council, I’ve seen firsthand how important a safe, smooth and well-run highway is to our region’s fiscal vitality. One need look no further than the Wal-Mart Distribution Center to see the business-attraction potential the turnpike offers the L-A area.

Without a modern transportation system nearby to move people and products efficiently, we wouldn’t be able to compete for such economic development opportunities. The turnpike provides that advantage and more.

The MTA is working with Maine DOT on a three-year project to significantly upgrade the Exit 80 interchange in Lewiston. When completed, the improvements will accommodate development of 1 million square feet of new manufacturing and retail space.

The MTA board appreciates OPEGA’s efforts and the authority is committed to implementing new policies and procedures to fully comply with OPEGA’s findings.

Lucien B. Gosselin is president of the Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth Council and vice chairman of the Maine Turnpike Authority. He lives in Lewiston.

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