Highway Simplification Study Underway

(from Maine Townsman, December 2009)
By Kate Dufour, Legislative Advocate, MMA

In June 2009, the Legislature finally adopted the FY 2010-2011 biennial Highway Fund Budget, which includes a directive instructing the Department of Transportation (DOT) to conduct a Highway System Simplification Study.

As enacted, the study charges a working group with examining the current road classification system to determine if the division of maintenance and repair responsibilities over state and local roads needs to be “simplified” in order to improve customer service and investment decisions. The study group is also charged with determining the best construction standards for roadways across the state.

The language of the budget bill specifies the membership of the study group, which includes representatives from DOT, Maine Municipal Association, Maine Chapter of American Public Works Association, Maine Better Transportation Association, Associated General Contractors and the American Council of Engineering Companies. In order to move the study forward, a Policy Work Group and a Sounding Board process have been created.

Policy Work Group. The Policy Work Group (PWG) is a 15-member committee made up of municipal, Department of Transportation (DOT) and industry representatives and charged with devising a new system for simplifying the current road classification system. The members of the Policy Work Group include eight MMA appointees and seven DOT appointees. A list of the members is provided in a sidebar to this article.

The PWG is responsible for designing the details of a new state/municipal road classification system, identifying which level of government should have responsibility for which classification, detailing related roles and responsibilities, and devising possible implementing legislation. The PWG will also explore other alternatives that do not require a shifting of road maintenance and repair responsibilities as well as amendments to the local road assistance program known as Urban/Rural Initiative Program (URIP). The Group will take into consideration and incorporate into their work products the comments, concerns and suggestions of the Sounding Board (see description below).

Sounding Board. The 50+ member Sounding Board is comprised of all interested parties; that is, anyone interested in the process is invited to participate in Board meetings. The purpose of the Sounding Board is to vet Policy Work Group recommendations and to provide suggestions, comments and guidance to the members of the Policy Work Group.

All municipal officials and other interested parties are invited to attend future Sounding Board meetings. Any municipal official interested in receiving periodic updates about the work of the PWG and invitations to Sounding Board meetings is asked to contact MMA’s Kate Dufour at kdufour@memun.org or 1-800-452-8786 for inclusion on the Association’s Highway Simplification Study interested parties list.

PWG Subcommittees. In addition to the Policy Work Group and the Sounding Board, interested parties will have an opportunity to participate on several subcommittees created by the Policy Work Group. It is expected that five subcommittees will be created and charged with researching: 1) cost and transition impacts; 2) design construction standards; 3) issues facing urban communities; 4) route renumbering; and 5) road classification appeals procedures. The PWG is currently working on this process.

Since the creation of the study by the Legislature, the Sounding Board has been convened once and by the time this edition of the Maine Townsman is printed, the PWG will have been convened twice. To date, the meetings of both groups have been introductory in nature, and focused on providing attendees background information on the scope of the study, state and local road and bridge program revenues and expenditures, and the complexities found in the existing state and federal road classifications systems. All of the materials generated for and provided at the PWG and Sounding Board meetings as well as background information on the members of the PWG can be found on the Department’s website at the following address: http://www.maine.gov/mdot/community-programs/hss.php

It is anticipated that over the next several months, the PWG will start to develop formal recommendations to be shared with the Sounding Board. It is the desire of the PWG to have its final report and any recommendations completed by September of 2010.

This study process could have far-reaching and significant impacts on municipal government. One of the most municipally-significant issues to be addressed in the study will focus on the road inventory and responsibility issue. The crux of the work of the PWG will focus on designing a new “inventory” system that assigns both maintenance and repair responsibilities over a particular class of roads to either the state or the municipality, if it is determined that such a “redesign/simplification” is possible. The intent of the classification redesign is to move away from the system of “shared” responsibilities on roads, particularly as it applies to the state aid road system. As part of the redesign process, the PWG will also develop and recommend changes to the existing state aid for local roads program, known as the Urban/Rural Initiative Program, or URIP. The recommended changes to URIP are to ensure that the program is adequate, both with respect to funding levels and program requirements, to meet any new demands placed on municipalities, if any are recommended through the study process. One recommendation, for example, could be to amend or repeal the current requirement that URIP funds must be used for capital expenses only.

We encourage all interested municipal officials to carefully monitor this process and to provide feedback, comments and suggestions to the Policy Work Group members. If you would like more information about the study, find out how to contact PWG members or to be included on MMA’s interested parties list, please contact Kate Dufour (1-800-452-8786 or kdufour@memun.org).

Highway Simplification Study Policy Work Group Members