DEER ISLE — This summer, the Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT) intends to do preliminary engineering to fix a 7.4-mile stretch of bumps and crevices on Route 15 from Orland to Blue Hill.
That was the good news from a road forum sponsored by western Hancock County towns Saturday in the Reach Auditorium at Deer Isle-Stonington Elementary School.
The bad news is Maine roadways are woefully underfunded.
“We don’t have a very diverse mix of revenue to support the system,” said forum panelist and former MDOT Commissioner John Melrose. Road revenue is derived from fuel and excise tax.
Maine’s highway fund is not keeping track with inflation, said Melrose, who is now senior consultant for Eaton Peabody Consulting Group. If the fund had been keeping pace, it would have $2.5 billion more than it does.
Maine transportation spending has dropped sharply since the 1970s.
“Back in the ’70s, 26 percent of state spending was on transportation,” Melrose said. “Today, it’s less than 9 percent.”
Western Hancock County has even more obstacles than funding shortages in getting Route 15 rebuilt.
Route 15 is not a priority for the state.
The Maine DOT ranks Route 15 as a priority level 3 on a scale of 1 to 6. Priority 1 roads include Route 1 and I-95. Local roads are considered Priority 6.
This was disheartening news for the over 100 residents and town officials who attended the forum. Many of those testified about public safety and economic issues stemming from the road conditions, particularly Route 15.