Gov. John E. Baldacci on Tuesday submitted legislation to authorize $160 million of TransCap Trust Fund revenue bonds over four years for investment in bridge construction and preservation in Maine. The initiative would supplement current bridge funding of about $70 million per year with an additional $40 million per year over the next four years.

If approved, the bill would authorize the Maine Municipal Bond Bank to issue the debt for bridge repair. To pay for debt service costs, Baldacci proposes increasing three fees within the state.

According to the bill, the state's vehicle registration fee would increase to $35 per year from $25; the title fee would increase to $33 per year from $23; and the vanity plate fee would rise to $25 per year from $15. Baldacci's office noted that even with the increases, Maine's fees would remain at or below those of neighboring New Hampshire and the New England average.

Baldacci said his proposal is in response to growing concern over the condition of bridges around the state and to a November 2007 report that recommended a significant increase in funding for bridge replacements and repairs in Maine.

The report recommended boosting the $70 million annual spending on repairs and replacements by another $50 million to $60 million. Maine, along with numerous other states, conducted inspections of its bridges after a steel deck truss bridge collapsed on Interstate 35W in Minneapolis last August.

"The tragedy last year in Minneapolis showed the world that we must remain vigilant when it comes to our bridges. We had a team of engineers review our bridge inspection program and funding levels, and they found that we need to make a significant investment," Baldacci said in a statement. "With this plan, we'll put $160 million in new funding to work alongside existing resources to rehabilitate and improve the state's bridges."

The initiative would fund 246 bridge projects around Maine, including 80 bridge replacements. Of the 246 projects, about two-thirds of the bridges being improved are currently on the Maine Department of Transportation's bridge watch list. The remaining projects would prevent other bridges from deteriorating into poor condition.

Because Baldacci's initiative includes the use of revenue bonds rather than general obligation bonds, no voter approval by Maine citizens is necessary, said Baldacci spokesman David Farmer. The Legislature also only has to approve the bill with majority vote rather than the two-thirds vote needed to approve GO bonds.

The bill has bipartisan support with 29 sponsors and co-sponsors, including both chairs of the joint Transportation Committee, Sen. Dennis Damon and Rep. Boyd Marley.

"We have bi-partisan support - almost the entire membership of the Transportation Committee and support from outside interest groups," Farmer said. "I believe there is strong support for the bill."

Because Maine has a short legislative session this year - the session ends April 16 - and the Legislature won't be back to work until December, Baldacci would like to see his bill passed before the session ends.


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