Where is Maine’s Transportation Policy Headed?

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Vicki Chase Jennifer Wallace-Brodeur Ben Lake and Judy Gates speak on a transportation panel at the E2Tech Expo in November 2016 at the University of Southern Maine photo by Kay MannOn November 17, 2016, the Environmental and Energy Technology Council (E2Tech) hosted its second annual E2Tech Expo at the University of Southern Maine in Portland. The day-long event comprised a number of fora on different aspects of energy policy, with an eye toward building a roadmap to Maine’s energy future. With 50% of Maine’s energy use going toward transportation, Green Energy Maine went along for the ride and brings you this report on the direction in which this roadmap might point us.

Maine is one of the most rural states in the nation, with almost two-thirds of its population living in rural areas. This, along with aging transportation infrastructure, creates a challenge for effective transportation throughout the State. The carbon cost and oil necessities of having to ship goods and services throughout Maine can be extremely high. But, alternative fuel sources like biodiesel and electric vehicles are helping to drive conversation towards viable solutions. But how do we develop sound energy and transportation policy that not only looks at vehicles and infrastructure, but also senior citizens' mobility issues, land use and downtown access, rural transport, and fleet financing options?

Vicki Chase, a Principal Regulatory Specialist with Normandeau Associates, was the moderator of this panel. The first speaker was Benjamin Lake, Coordinator for Maine Clean Communities (MC2) at Greater Portland Council of Governments. GPCOG does a lot of transportation planning, among other things, and also conducts regional energy use and emissions inventories.

Lake commented that transportation is important because of what it DOES, not what it IS. It affects community organization, the economy, public health, social equity and of course, the climate.

Maine faces many challenges regarding transportation. We have the oldest population, we are 2/3 rural and many people are aging “out” of their automobiles. We are also the most obese state in New England.

In 2013, GPCOG did an emissions analysis for the year 2010. Automotive transportation used 42% of our energy and caused 45% of our emissions. We spend $989 million on transportation, 80% of which leaves the state’s economy. Our emissions as a state have dropped from 2001-2010 and most of this reduction has been from buildings, not from transportation changes.

Many efforts such as Uber are having a small impact, but our love affair is more with our smart phones, rather than with our cars, according to Rosabeth Kantor. Lake outlined a few innovative programs:
Uber has rolled out a driverless, autonomous vehicle in Pittsburgh already.
Bridge is another option to provide “last mile” connections from the end of transit lines to further destinations.
Lyft Line is an Uber competitor that is beginning to offer ride sharing for people with similar destinations or routes.
Bikeshare has come onto the national stage in recent years. They don’t replace but augment the options and have the added benefit of providing exercise.

GPCOG is coming out with a web-based phone app called Southern Maine Transit Tracker that shows all transit options, including Uber. It can be transferred from city to city and works in most places.

Maine Clean Communities’ approach to reducing greenhouse gases (GHG) from transportation is a four-legged stool:
improving vehicle fuel efficiency;
shifting to less carbon-intensive fuels;
improving the operational efficiency of cars and transport systems (using existing vehicles for highest and best use, e.g. optimizing fleets) and
changing travel behavior and development patterns in order to reduce overall vehicle miles traveled.

Some steps that Lake suggested we take in Maine include:
supporting public transit;
updating zoning and planning for increasing the density that helps transit to work well;
instituting dynamic pricing for parking, where parking will have different rates at different times and
implementing form-based codes and “complete streets”.

Form-based codes are not concerned with the economic activity so much as the nature of the activity, so homes and work can be located close to one another. Complete streets planning is based on the needs of all users, including pedestrians and dedicated transit lanes.

Rural areas present a unique challenge. We need to support zoning that preserves open/working land and encourages sensible downtown density. Support for increasing fuel economy standards is also very important since rural areas will continue being dependent on single-use vehicles. We can also ensure that ordinances and local programs support ride-sharing and low income users.

Statewide actions that GPCOG suggests include providing low-carbon fueling stations along major transportation corridors, use of lower-carbon fuels for heavy duty vehicles and increasing the use of fuel efficient and low-carbon vehicles in municipal and state fleets.

The second speaker was Jennifer Wallace-Brodeur, the Director of Transportation at the Vermont Energy Investment Corporation. This is a mission-driven nonprofit that works nationally, not just in Vermont. 

Wallace-Broder gave us a glimpse of the Vermont Comprehensive Energy Plan, framing her remarks by saying that the aging, obesity, land use issues that Ben mentioned are similar in Vermont to what they are in Maine. Further, she pointed out that the transportation sector is now the #1 emitter of carbon nationally and that the financial burden of transportation is 52% of household incomes in VT.

The VCEP has a goal of using 90% renewable energy by 2050 and reducing total energy consumption by 1/3 per capita by 2050. The transportation goals include a 20% reduction in energy use by 2025 and a 30% reduction in GHG’s from transportation by 2025. To move away from fossil fuels, we have to think in terms of electrification. Utilities benefit from increased load and economies benefit from keeping dollars circulating locally.

Drive Electric Vermont is a stakeholder group that is focusing on siting more EV charging infrastructure and workplace charging stations. Ride & drive events allow people to try out the vehicles before going to dealerships. They have instituted some point of sale rebates (from $750-$1,000), for a limited time. They are also trying to advance more electric school buses and transit buses. The VW settlement has resulted in a consent decree that will bring about $20 million to each state, so it is recommended that each state devote the funds to clean vehicle charging infrastructure.

One interesting thing they are doing in Vermont is converting cow manure into fuels for vehicles: “cow power”. This provides another source of revenue to farmers.

Generally, Wallace-Brodeur suggested that we need to break down the policy silos that affect transportation; There are many areas of overlap, such as aging and obesity. The key to any complete streets policy is implementation. It must bring the public into the planning process.

The panel’s third speaker was Judy Gates, Director of the Energy Office at the Maine Department of Transportation.

Maine also has a state energy plan, Drive Electric Maine and a slightly outdated climate change reduction goals map. Maine DOT feels a sense of responsibility for moving people around in a sustainable way.MDOT does have an active complete streets program and is collaborating with the Maine DEP. They have designated corridors for phased development of EV charging station infrastructure.

The legislature has specified that highway funds can only go toward roads and bridges. Any multi-modal efforts have to come from the general fund, and there are many others feeding at that trough. MDOT is planning to accept $20 million in VW settlement funds. 

Gates commented that one of the biggest challenges is in changing behaviors. If we establish a large transit network and no one uses it, it will be wasted.


Q: How is the planning coming for a train to Lewiston-Auburn? What about the bond funding?Gates: The bond funding will go toward multi-modal programs.

Q: In Waterville, there is a successful bus service, though there are not enough buses. Any idea where funding might come from for more buses?

Gates: Sue Moreau is DOT’s Bureau of Planning contact. Nate Moulton is the contact for rail planning.

Q: Are there restrictions on what the $20 million can be used for?

Wallace-Broder: It is earmarked to fund the transition of diesel-powered vehicles to cleaner ones. There are ranges of cost-sharing provisions and specifications for transit/transport types. Up to 15% can be used to support charging infrastructure.

Photo by Kay Mann: L-R: Vicki Chase, Jennifer Wallace-Brodeur, Ben Lake and Judy Gates.