Big changes in store for Maine Turnpike?

| Thursday, May 05, 2011

Major changes could soon be mandated at the Maine Turnpike Authority following a report that questioned the agency’s spending. Among the benefits for truckers and other drivers is a requirement that more toll revenue be routed to state highway projects.

The agency has been under fire since a January report by the Legislature’s accountability office uncovered lavish spending and about $160,000 in gift cards that could not be accounted for. About two months later, the turnpike authority’s director, Paul Violette, resigned.

The 88-page report recommended more oversight of the agency.

In response, Rep. Richard Cebra, R-Naples, introduced a bill that would require a restructuring of the turnpike authority. The legislation pursues a number of changes, including a requirement for Senate confirmation of the authority’s director. Currently, the board of directors has sole authority to select the director.

Additional requirements call for the agency to submit spending budgets and transfer 5 percent of its annual operating revenue to the state Department of Transportation. About $5.7 million in revenue each year would be applied to projects within 25 miles of turnpike interchanges.

Sen. Dawn Hill, D-York, said the agency is being held accountable for poor decisions made by top managers and an unwillingness to address public concerns. She highlighted the authority’s treatment of York County residents who questioned the building of a new toll plaza, which started the inquiry into their activities.

“The turnpike’s leaders were non-responsive and acted as if they were above answering legitimate questions,” Hill said in a statement. “Now those chickens have come home to roost.”

The Legislature’s Transportation Committee is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the bill – LD1538 – on Tuesday, May 10.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Maine, click here.

Editor’s Note: Please share your thoughts with us about the legislation included in this story. Comments may be sent to statelegislativedesk@ooida.com.

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