How the Biden Administration Changed the Department of Transportation Power Structure Locally
In my local community on the Boothbay Peninsula of Maine, the leaders and many other people are in an uproar because for years the Maine Department of Transportation hasn’t paved Route 27, a long and winding country road that veers off of Route One and leads to the communities of Edgecomb, Boothbay, Boothbay Harbor, and Southport.
Last year many side roads, back roads, and interconnecting roads were paved but the main road leading into the Boothbay Community was not. On the other side of Boothbay Harbor, Route 96 was paved from East Boothbay to Ocean Point but the small stretch of road from East Boothbay to Boothbay Harbor remains a rumble road.
Speculatively, this issue can be understood in the context of the balance of power. The Department of Transportation is a subsidiary of Maine Gov. Its web address is https://www.maine.gov/mdot. It’s governed by the distribution of wealth coming down from the federal government and laterally by public-private relationships, and of course the Maine taxpayer. Taking an educated guess, that translates as a balance of power between the Legislature that writes the funding rules and the administrative branch that oversees the work that needs to be done.
The last time I read the Maine DOT rules was when the roundabout was being constructed. Then it was governed by rules which prioritized communities with money (private developers) over communities with the most need (such as roads that are so badly in need of paving that the roads have become dangerous). That pay-to-play funding system grants the private developer inordinate power to control community character and even road infrastructure design over the administrative authority of the Maine DOT.
There is a commonly held consensus that there was no reason to place a roundabout in the middle of the otherwise unobstructed main thruway where the speed limit was thirty miles an hour, except for the private developers will to make his golf course the central feature of the town center. The four-million-dollar DOT project involved moving a four-way stop that was off to the side in a low-traffic stream and placing it in the middle of the high traffic stream, coincidentally at the entrance to the country club. Stops became yields and the roadway was decorated with cultivated landscaping in the style of the country club, newly exposed to public viewing, sitting on a cultivated hillside above the town common with its landscaping effects reaching down and around the town common and encompassing the town office. Meanwhile, a traffic problem involving several intersections that call out loudly for a tragic light was not addressed and remains a problem to this day.
At that time, I procured the DOT Cooperative Agreement, using an FOAA request, to which I received by snail mail an overkill amount of information, by design, I am sure.
Pg 3 of the DOT Cooperative Agreement said
1. Proiect Design:The Developer has procured a contract with a qualified engineering firm to design the Project in accordance with specifications approved by MaineDOT (the “Design Contract”). The Design Contract also includes all necessary title research, right of way mapping services and preparation of transactional documents to properly identify existing conditions, property impacts, and all parties having ownership or financial interests in the affected abutting properties, and to effectively transfer the necessary property rights to the Developer and, in turn, to MaineDOT. The Developer shall ensure that the following standards and expectations are met:
It is written in the DOT Cooperative Agreement that PGC5 LLC, the development company owned by Paul Coulombe, submitted a design for the Boothbay roundabout for approval by the Maine Department of Transportation. It is witnessed by Dale Doughty, Director of the Maine Department of Transportation on April 17, 2017.
Today there is an article in the Boothbay Register by Representative Holly Stover displaying a letter written to Commissioner Van Note in which she pleads for answers as to why the pavement of Route 27 is not scheduled until next year and asks for action.
I have no more information than anyone else so what I conjure up as happening behind the scenes is pure speculation.
Imagine that at the time that funding was being allocated for what can be described, at best, as a frivolous project in Boothbay, the Department of Transportation was receiving similar letters to the one Holly sent from other locations and had to tell communities with real need that the funds have been appropriated elsewhere, all the while knowing that there was no real need for the project that got the funding.
The rules that existed then, likely written by the Maine Legislature, gave first priority to municipalities with the most money in hand, which usually means communities with private developers who match the costs in a three-way split between the private developer, the municipality, and the state.
However, being that the funding was not used for a real need, it was wasted money for the Department of Transportation. Maybe the pavement schedule was a top-level decision or a middle management decision or maybe a simple bureaucrat who calculated that no one was going to take note of but somebody was pissed. Perhaps they visited the site and saw not only the frivolous use of department money but also that the real traffic problem of the multiple intersections at one spot was not addressed. It’s the DOT job to identify those issues but the legislative branch had transferred authority over infrastructure design from those who understand the job to those who can buy the authority. Somebody in the Department of Transportation decided to use the power of their administrative branch to show the Boothbay Peninsula what it feels like to have a real need for which no funds are appropriated. And so here we are today.
The person in charge of the paving schedule didn’t write the law that decided that infrastructure spending will be allocated on a first-come- with-the-most-money-in-hand, first-serve basis. That was likely done at the Legislature who sees the issue as funding projects, and the Maine Legislature practices a pay to play policy liberally with little thought of how this might affect the administrative branch which has to get a job done efficiently and effectively. The person who creates the schedule might have had the idea of using their small modicum of power to send a message. Perhaps when Holly’s letter is received, the real reason why, in this hypothesis, the road to Boothbay is not being paved will arise but will it have an effect on the system?
In steps a higher power, the federal government, the giver of gifts. to continue reading, pass through the paywall!