MaineDOT advances Casco Bay Bridge privatization despite concerns

Posted: January 07, 2016 | Senator Diamond, Transportation

AUGUSTA — The controversial Casco Bay Bridge privatization plan appears set to advance despite the objection of members of the Legislature’s Transportation Committee.

During the Committee’s first briefing on the issue, Maine Department of Transportation Commissioner David Bernhardt said he would likely finalize the deal on Tuesday, despite serious concerns raised by the committee. When asked to pause so that elected officials could consider the potential ramifications of the deal, Bernhardt said no.

“I’m disappointed that Commissioner Bernhardt wouldn’t even consider delaying this contract until we could get some more clarity about whether this privatization plan is really needed,” said Sen. Bill Diamond of Windham, the ranking Senate Democrat on the committee. “There’s no emergency and no imminent state savings on the line, but there are still many questions about the implications on safety, commerce and taxpayer money. I don’t see why there’s such a rush.”

The Maine Department of Transportation announced late in December that it would sign a contract with a Florida-based company, FDI Services, which would take over the bridge. That move will displace nine workers, but not save the state any money.

Lawmakers have questioned why the department would make the unprecedented move of privatizing the Casco Bay Bridge, changing course after years of professional operation and a solid track record of safety and efficiency.

“Nine Maine workers are being displaced for no good reason that I can see. I’ve got a constituent – a neighbor whose son I coach in soccer – who could be out of job soon,” said Rep. Mark Bryant, D-Windham, a committee member. “The state isn’t going to save any money. It will be sending money to an out-of-state company and cheating the public out of the chance to weigh in on issues of taxpayer dollars and public safety.”

Casco Bay Bridge spans the Fore River, connecting Portland to points south, and is a primary conduit for commuters and commerce in Southern Maine. It is the largest drawbridge in the state, and between 30,000 and 35,000 vehicles pass over it every day.