by Pete Didisheim, NRCM Advocacy Director
Senator Collins, Representative Cebra, and members of the Joint Standing Committee on Transportation. My name is Pete Didisheim, I am the Advocacy Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, and I appreciate this opportunity to testify on LD 1367 – “An Act to Restore Maine’s Secondary Roads.” We oppose Section 7 and Section 13 of the bill, and request that these sections be removed from any legislation that you may adopt.
We recognize the challenge that Maine faces in maintaining our secondary roads, but we strongly oppose repealing Maine’s ban on billboards as a strategy to generate funding for road repairs.
Ending Maine’s billboard ban – which is what Sec. 7 of this bill is designed to do – would harm Maine’s tourism industry, would not generate enough money to make a meaningful difference in road repairs, and fails to recognize how the internet and GPS have fundamentally transformed how people get travel information in this day and age.
At the outset, one must ask: Why would Maine want to look like New Jersey, where billboards are everywhere? Why would we want billboards littering Rt. 1 along the Maine coast? Or Rt. 302 heading into Naples or Bridgton? Or Rt. 27 through the Belgrade Lakes? Or Rt. 6 heading into Greenville or Rt. 4 to the Rangeley Lakes?
These and other scenic roads draw people to Maine from around the world. Maine has one of the nation’s oldest Scenic Byway programs. The Department of Transportation promotes scenic drives throughout the state (attached), including Maine Scenic Byways, National Scenic Byways, and All-American Roads. LD 1367 would allow the Commissioner of Maine’s Department of Transportation to authorize billboards along any of the more than 8,500 miles of roadways that are either interstate highways, state highways, or state aid highways. Adding billboards along these and other Maine roads would be a tragedy.
Maine’s Office of Tourism – and hundreds of tourism-dependent businesses – market Maine for its scenic values. Do these businesses really want signs for Hollywood Slots, Joe Bornstein, or Bob’s Furniture competing against views of Penobscot Bay, Sebago Lake, or Maine’s rugged coast? People come to Maine because it’s not like New Jersey.
Members of this Committee represent districts with incredible scenic resources. I urge each of you to create a mental picture of the most scenic part of your district, and then drop billboards into that image. That’s what LD 1367 would do if it were adopted.
And for what purpose? Certainly it can’t be because it would generate a huge revenue stream. Let’s assume that the State received $1,000/month for each billboard – which may be generous. This would be $12,000/year/sign. How much road repair would that buy? Not much, actually. According to the Department of Transportation, a simple repaving costs $130,000/mile, and road reconstruction runs $1 million/mile. As such, the Commissioner of Transportation would need to approve 11 billboards to repave a single mile of Maine’s secondary roads, and 83 billboards to rebuild a mile. With thousands of miles of roadways needing repair, we would need thousands of billboards, if not tens of thousands, to make a big difference in improving Maine’s secondary roads.
Of additional concern, the bill would create an incentive for the Commissioner of Transportation to authorize billboards where they would be seen by the most people – because lease values are highest along roadways with the heaviest traffic. This would guarantee that visitors would quickly see Maine’s billboards, instead of our beauty.
But there’s an additional question that needs to be asked, and it is this: How relevant are billboards anyway in today’s internet age? Smart phones, GPS, on-board information systems, and ubiquitous internet services are providing instant access to the information they really want – about where to sleep, eat, get a cup of coffee, and shop. A few minutes on a smart phone provides more information than a thousand billboards.
Maine’s billboard ban has been a success. As Dana Connors recently said, reflecting on Maine’s decision to ban billboards: “I think time has rendered that to be a very good decision, a right decision, that has fit very well with how we see ourselves and how other people see us in terms of the importance of the environment to our state and how it fits into the business agenda.” (see attached)
Dana’s quote speaks well of how the billboard ban has become part of who we are as a state. There is no stampede for more signage in Maine, so we urge you not to allow it. The last billboard fell in 1984. Let’s let it rest in peace.
Finally, we oppose the effort in Sec. 13 to redirect revenues associated with any leasing of land for an energy infrastructure corridor. The Legislature in 2010 after considerable debate and analysis unanimously adopted a bill that allocates 80% of revenues collected from an energy corridor lease to the Efficiency Maine Trust, and 20% of revenues to the Department of Transportation’s Transportation Efficiency Fund. A great deal of thought and debate went into that legislation, and we do not support this attempt to capture those funds for another purpose.
For these reasons, we urge that Sections 7 and 13 be removed from LD 1367. I appreciate this opportunity to testify and would be glad to answer any questions you may have.