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Supporters of Maine bond referendum say voters need to help bail out state's bridges


PORTLAND, Maine — Maine's economy hinges on its bridges and that's why voters next week should approve millions of dollars in borrowing, backers of a state infrastructure bond referendum said Wednesday.

The ballot Tuesday contains a question about whether to authorize $85 million for infrastructure projects. Most of the money would go to construct, reconstruct or rehabilitate state highways and replace and rehab bridges.

A group of bond supporters who held a news conference Wednesday cited a report by Washington, D.C.-based group TRIP that said about a third of the state's approximately 2,400 bridges are either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.

Dana Connors, president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, said money for infrastructure is needed to protect the security of Maine's tourism industry and ability to ship goods out of state. Connors, a former state Department of Transportation commissioner, said Maine's bridge funding has decreased from 2009 to 2013 levels, and the state's aging infrastructure has suffered.

"There is no way we can maintain our economy by delaying projects or denying their importance," Connors said. "This will help us serve our economy, help us grow our economy."

More than a quarter of state-maintained bridges were at least 70 years old in 2014, according to the report by TRIP, which researches, evaluates and distributes data on transportation issues. The figure has increased 3 percentage points, to 28 percent, since 2007, the report said.

The $85 million bond would be allocated in two ways if voters approve it. Most would go to bridges and highways and $17 million would provide money for facilities and equipment related to ports, harbors, railroads and other transit hubs that have "high transportation economic value," state records say.

The infrastructure question is one of three on the ballot in Maine. Another bond question would provide $15 million for housing for seniors. Most of that money would be used to build new, affordable homes for low-income households headed by a person over 55.

Another question will ask voters whether they want to overhaul the state's campaign finance law, which gives public money to candidates running for governor and the Legislature.

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