Sidebar: Highway Simplification Study
By the Numbers

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Major and Minor Collectors in Maine

Highway Simplification Study Recommendations

(from Maine Townsman, December 2010)
by Kate Dufour, Legislative Advocate, MMA

On Tuesday, Nov. 9 the Highway Simplification Study’s Policy Working Group (PWG) held its last scheduled meeting. After convening monthly over the last year, the 15-member PWG finalized its 11 key recommendations for simplifying municipal and state maintenance, capital improvement and funding responsibilities over Maine’s roadway system.

The Policy Group’s recommendations include proposals for:

• swapping year-round responsibilities over the major and minor collector road system between the municipalities and the state;

• improving the minor collector road system to a 10-year standard;

• creating two dispute resolution and grievance airing boards;

• restructuring the existing urban compact program; and

• changing longstanding local road assistance and municipal motor vehicle excise tax use policies.

These recommendations will be memorialized in a report authored by the Maine Department of Transportation (MaineDOT) and provided to the members of the newly-elected Maine Legislature for their consideration by January 15, 2011. A core disagreement between the municipal and state representatives on the Policy Working Group over the future obligations for capital improvements to the minor collector roads will be included in the final report.

Overcoming Trust Concerns

The ability of the PWG members to coalesce around nearly all of Highway Simplification Study recommendations is commendable. Trust, or the lack of trust, became a constant obstacle throughout the Highway Simplification Study process. The municipal community, as a whole, was and remains concerned that regardless of the unanimity among the state, municipal and private industry professionals that participated in the study, various recommendations in the comprehensive proposal will be “cherry picked”. By implementing just some of the PWG’s recommendations, the benefits of the proposal quickly become skewed in the state’s favor.

That being said, the Department is to be commended for its outreach to the municipalities and for being supportive of a process that resulted in the appointment of 11 municipal officials to the 15-member PWG. The municipal officials who served on the PWG are also to be commended for their ability to regularly put aside trust issues and work on finding solutions to identified problems.

Report Recommendations and Highlights

As a result of the work accomplished by the PWG and its subcommittees and subgroups, it is expected that the Department’s final report will include the following recommendations:

Split Year-round Collector Road Maintenance Responsibility. Year-round maintenance responsibilities over the entire collector road system (major and minor) would be split between the state and municipalities. The state would take over winter and summer maintenance responsibilities over the non-compact major collector road system and the municipalities would take over year-round maintenance responsibilities over the entire minor collector road system. For a visual impact of this recommendation, please see the “Major and Minor Collectors in Maine” map produced by MaineDOT and printed on page 24.

Improve Minor Collector Road System to a 10-Year Standard. Prior to swapping major and minor collector road maintenance responsibilities, the state would be financially responsible for improving all minor collector roads to a useful life of at least 10-years. Using a standard adopted by the PWG, the state would work with municipalities to determine the scope of work necessary to ensure that no minor collector road brought up to the standard would need additional capital investments for a 10-year period.

Create a Review Board Process. A three-step resolution process would be available to address minor collector 10-year standard improvement disputes. First, all disputes would be addressed at the local level between the designated municipal representative and MaineDOT’s transportation operations manager. If the dispute could not be resolved locally, the designated municipal official and MaineDOT’s region superintendent would try to resolve the conflict. If the dispute could not be resolved at that level, then the Review Board would step in to resolve the conflict. The Review Board would consist of five members, two MaineDOT representatives and one alternate appointed by the Maine Department of Transportation, two municipal representatives and one alternate appointed by the Maine Municipal Association and one “neutral party” mutually appointed by the state and municipal representatives on the Review Board.

Amend Formulas and Increase State Aid to Municipalities. A road’s classification (i.e., local, minor collector or state major collector, etc.) would determine the level of state aid. Recommended reimbursement rates range from $300 per lane mile for seasonal local roads to $4,000 for major and arterial roads in compact areas. Based on the best information available, it is estimated that proposed changes to local road assistance funding could increase from $22.7 million to $36.4 million, a $14 million statewide increase.

Funding Future Minor Collector Road Capital Costs.The most significant area of disagreement among the members of the PWG is with respect to how to treat future minor collector road capital improvements. As originally crafted by the PWG, municipalities would be financially responsible for all future capital improvements.

In response to the comments received at an Oct. 7 Sounding Board meeting and an Oct. 13 Legislative Policy Committee meeting, the municipal officials on the PWG advanced and continue to work on alternative minor collector capital investment plans. One of the alternatives being promoted by the municipal members of the PWG is a shared state/municipal responsibility over future capital improvements.

Another alternative advanced would hold municipalities accountable for funding future minor collector road capital improvements. However, in addition to the $36.4 million in local road assistance, the state would be required to set aside 10 percent of its share of Highway Fund revenues for a Minor Collector Improvement Program (MCIP). Under MCIP, municipalities would compete for state funding for future minor collector road improvement projects.

Although the PWG is open to more discussion on this issue, the Department continues to proceed with drafting the final report in order to meet its Jan. 15, 2011 report back deadline. It is expected, however, that the Department’s final report will include a discussion of this disagreement.

Restructured Compact Program. The PWG’s proposal includes a plan to restructure existing urban compact program. However, at the time this article was being drafted, there were two proposals being considered by the PWG.

Under the existing urban compact program, municipalities with populations in excess of 7,499 are responsible for providing winter and non-capital summer maintenance on the segments of state aid roads (i.e., minor and major collector roads) and state roads (i.e., arterial roads) that run through the community’s compact or developed area. Forty-three communities are classified as “urban compact” under the existing definition.

As originally proposed by the PWG, compact communities would be defined as communities at any population level that have a sustained development density for a cumulative total of 2.5 miles or more on arterial and major collector roads. According to the Department, a total of 75 communities meet this density-based definition.

In response to the feedback received by municipal officials attending the October Sounding Board meeting, MaineDOT proposed further amending the PWG’s proposal by allowing municipalities that meet the development density standard but have populations under 4,000 to opt out of the program. Under the amended proposal, 63 communities would be required to participate in the compact program.

One of the municipal representatives on the PWG advocated for the implementation of a two-tiered compact program. Tier 1 communities would include the 43 current compact communities. The compact area would be defined as the areas in the community with 2.5-plus miles of densely developed state roads. These communities would continue to provide the services currently required and be provided reimbursement at a rate of $4,000 per lane mile.

Participation in the Tier 2 program would be voluntary and open to all other municipalities with defined compact areas. These communities would have limited responsibilities on state roads in the compact area. Maintenance responsibilities would include: winter snow and ice control; sweeping; pothole repair; traffic signage (excluding maintenance of traffic signals); ditching; driveway culvert, minor span and catch basin cleaning and repair; guardrail repair; erosion control and vegetation management; hazardous tree pruning or removal; and sidewalk maintenance. Municipalities opting into the Tier 2 program would be reimbursed at a rate of $3,000 per lane mile for arterials and major collector roads in the defined compact area.

Efforts are under way to draft a proposal that addresses all of the PWG members’ concerns. It is hoped that a unanimously supported recommendation will be drafted in time for inclusion in the Department’s final report. If not, it is expected that the final report will include a discussion of both approaches.

Repeal Limits on Use of State Aid.Generally, under the existing local road assistance program (URIP), municipalities must use the state aid for capital improvements only. However, those limits would be repealed and municipalities would be authorized to use state aid for any transportation-related purpose, including snowplowing, equipment purchases, capital investments, etc.

Repeal of URIP Hold Harmless Provision.Under existing law, municipalities are guaranteed to receive local road assistance funding that is no less than the amount of aid received in 1999. As a result, some communities are reimbursed at rates that exceed the standard $600 per lane mile for local roads. The hold harmless provision would be incrementally phased out over a five-year period. Although the impacted communities would see a reduction in state aid, those communities would nonetheless receive the same per lane mile reimbursement rates (i.e., $600/lane mile for local roads, etc.) as every other Maine community.

Create an Appeals Committee. A five-member Appeals Committee would be created to enable municipalities to grieve state-level road functional classifications and compact border designation decisions. Membership on the Committee would include representation from the Federal Highway Administration, Maine Department of Transportation, Maine Municipal Association, Attorney General’s Office and the Maine Chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Limit Existing Reclassification Practices.MaineDOT staff would be directed to finalize, as best as possible, a detailed list of the road reclassifications currently being explored and implement a four-year moratorium on the expansion of the reclassification list, unless the reclassification is mutually agreed to by both the municipality and MaineDOT.

Clarify Motor Vehicle Excise Tax Law. With the stipulation that this recommendation only be enacted as part of a comprehensive Highway Simplification Study, municipalities would be required to use motor vehicle excise tax revenue for transportation-related purposes only (i.e., maintenance or capital costs of highways, minor spans, transit support, traffic enforcement, etc.).

Next Steps and More Information

It is important to note that proposed changes outlined above are the recommendations of the working group and do not have the force of law if and until they are enacted by the Maine Legislature.

Until the members of the 125th Legislature’s Transportation Committee are appointed, receive the report and decide on whether or not to act on the PWG’s recommendations, nothing will change. Year-round responsibilities over the minor collector road system will not be shifted to municipalities, nor will major collector winter road responsibilities be shifted to the state. None of the recommended changes to the URIP funding policies outlined above will be implemented.

If the Transportation Committee decides to move forward with the package, or elements of the package, the public hearing process will be engaged. At that point, municipal officials will have the opportunity to share their opinions with the Legislature on how best to proceed.

For more information on the study, please see the Department of Transportation’s website. A link to the state’s data is provided on MMA’s website at www.memun.org. Also, please feel free to contact MMA’s Kate Dufour at 1-800-452-8786 or kdufour@memun.org with your questions and comments.

 

 

 

 

Highway Simplification Study By the Numbers

22,713 Federal, state and local road miles in Maine.

2,350 Miles of minor collector roads impacted by “Fix & Swap” proposal.

1,500 Miles of major collector roads impacted by “Fix & Swap” proposal.

300 Millions of dollars (est.) needed to improve minor collector roads
to the “10-year” standard

14 Million dollar increase in annual local road assistance under the “Fix
& Swap” proposal.