More bonds OK’d for Maine Turnpike Authority; other bills of note

| 6/14/2007

Gov. John Baldacci has signed a bill into law increasing the borrowing limit for the Maine Turnpike Authority so it can make improvements to the toll route. Other bills remain active as the session draws to a close.

The new law, previously LD321, will boost the Turnpike Authority’s bonding capacity by $100 million. It will bring the agency’s total capacity to $461 million. The limit has been $361 million.

Supporters say the higher limit will allow the Turnpike Authority to complete projects in its 20-year capital plan. The plan focuses on bridges, drainage and other improvements to the toll route.

Another bill signed by the governor allows the widening of a nine-mile stretch of the turnpike through the Portland area.

The bill – LD320 – authorizes the Turnpike Authority to widen the section of the roadway from Exit 44 in Scarborough to Exit 53 in Falmouth from two to three lanes in each direction. Two years ago an adjoining nine-mile stretch was widened from four to six lanes.

The work, with a price tag of $150 million, will be done only if the Turnpike Authority determines that alternatives are not sufficient to address congestion on the corridor, The Associated Press reported. Maine law requires that alternatives to widening be evaluated to determine if they would address the problem.

The widening project would be paid for in part by a toll increase that is scheduled to take effect in 2010. The rate hike hasn’t been set yet.

The turnpike last raised tolls by 22 percent in 2005. Officials estimate the new increase will be as much as 20 percent.

To further help foot the bill for the widening project, revenue bonds for the turnpike would be increased by $25 million. The measure also incorporates the $100 million increase in the turnpike authority’s bonding limit. The new borrowing limit to pay for the project would be $486 million.

Turnpike officials are proposing to spend $75 million for the widening. Another $75 million would go for bridge upgrades and other modernization work, The AP reported.

A separate bill would repeal a Sept. 15, 2007, sunset provision in the state’s axle weight law.

Sponsored by Rep. Douglas Thomas, R-Ripley, the bill – LD9 – would make permanent certain fine amounts for six-axle trucks hauling special commodities or forest products that violate axle weight limits.

It also would permanently eliminate axle weight fine violations during the months of January and February on most state roads.

Another bill – LD265 – would increase the maximum gross vehicle weight limit and axle weight limit for large trucks equipped with idle reduction technology. Sponsored by Rep. Charles Theriault, D-Madawaska, the bill would authorize affected trucks to weigh up to an additional 400 pounds.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor