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About two weeks before Election Day, freight industry stakeholders in Maine and around the country are emphasizing Sen. Susan Collins’ contributions to the transportation community as she defends her seat this November.
The Republican senator leads the upper chamber’s panel on transportation funding, which is responsible for allocating resources to rebuild critical commercial corridors, and myriad freight infrastructure.
Trucking leaders point to her record of promoting funding for big-ticket projects, which they say demonstrates an affinity for freight policy and infrastructure concerns.
Collins’ reputation as an independent lawmaker has connected with a reliable voting bloc that has sent her to Washington for four terms. The incumbent is known for delivering constituent service and addressing pressing national issues.
Her Democratic challenger is Sara Gideon, speaker of the Maine House of Representatives. She promotes climate change policies, renewable energy and infrastructure. Some polls show Gideon with a lead over Collins.
Collins has championed backing a federal program that distributes grants for infrastructure projects, and as Congress readies a new round of COVID-19 financial aid, she also has stepped up efforts to address concerns from the airline industry. In September, she introduced legislation that would provide nearly $30 billion for airlines, including cargo carriers. The Air Carrier Worker Support Extension Act also would extend the airline worker payroll support program through March.
“Our legislation to extend this lifeline would help frontline employees to continue to receive a paycheck and require airlines to maintain flights to every community they serve,” Collins said Sept. 21. “I am committed to ensuring that all facets of our transportation network, including buses, motorcoaches, passenger ferries and public transportation, have the resources they need to survive the current economic crisis.”
Trucking Industry Support
This follows her sponsorship several years ago of legislation designed to reform hours-of-service guidelines for truckers, an effort that enhanced her profile in trucking circles. Barry Pottle, president and CEO of Pottle’s Transportation and former chairman of American Trucking Associations, applauded Collins for her attention to the trucking industry and longtime record of bipartisanship.
And, she just goes above and beyond for the state of Maine. If she doesn’t get reelected, she is going to be very, very missed. I can tell you that. We’re very concerned.
Barry Pottle, president and CEO of Pottle's Transportation, based in Bangor
“Sen. Collins has been very fair with the whole state of Maine. I mean she’s really down to Earth. She understands business,” said Pottle, whose company is based in Bangor. “The one thing about Sen. Collins is she does her research on everything. And I think that’s very, very important for somebody to represent our state. I think she’s done a very, very good job of it. And she looks out for all industries. She looks out for the people of Maine. And, she’s been a great senator.”
Pottle added, “Every time that I’ve gone to her, as long as I’ve got the facts and the figures, and everything that she needs, she’ll take that information and dissect it — have her people look at it. And, she just goes above and beyond for the state of Maine. If she doesn’t get reelected, she is going to be very, very missed. I can tell you that. We’re very concerned.”
In an era of hyperpolarization and passionate partisan preferences, moderate lawmakers such as Collins are rare, Pottle noted. Specifically, he touted her consistent support for the state’s freight enterprises, and pointed to her effort to allow certain heavy trucks to operate on the state’s federal interstates. Additionally, her endorsement of reforms to drivers’ hours-of-service rules and the mandate on electronic logging devices have been essential to the industry.
Saluting the men and women of the trucking industry who kept America's essential goods flowing during the coronavirus pandemic.
On ELDs, she has said, “I have long advocated for the implementation of electronic, onboard recorders in our nation’s commercial trucks and buses to improve the safety of our roads. Paper logs have been proven to be less accurate and easy to manipulate, allowing some drivers to evade safety restrictions on driving hours. While most drivers abide by the rules, these electronic logs automatically record driving hours, eliminate these errors, and help to effectively enforce hours-of-service compliance.”
Additionally, Collins’ record includes placing a spotlight on human trafficking, with the goal of eradicating it. She has sponsored bipartisan legislation targeting online outlets that reportedly provide a forum that critics said facilitated sex trafficking. Collins partnered with Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy (D) on the Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act of 2019.
For these contributions, she was a recipient this year of ATA’s inaugural Hero Award (sponsored by Trucking Cares Foundation, ATA’s charitable arm).
“Every state in America is affected by this evil,” Collins said in January. “We must not cease our efforts until we truly [have] brought an end to human trafficking.”
Brian Parke, president and CEO of the Maine Motor Transport Association, described Collins as having a formidable record at the federal level. Her tenure is marked by promoting trucking policies, safety enhancements, and garnering funds to build and repair corridors large and small.
“The Maine trucking industry has really appreciated Sen. Collins and her efforts serving on the Senate Appropriations Committee and chairing the [Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies] subcommittee,” Parke told Transport Topics. “She has done important and sometimes thankless work on infrastructure funding, and she has championed countless issues important to highway safety. Maine has been fortunate to have someone in such a position of influence in D.C.”
“You take a senator like Sen. Collins that’s never missed a vote,” Pottle said, adding, “She’s going to have some votes there that people aren’t going to agree with. But, I think, when you look at her record, her record speaks for itself. She is top-notch. She’s in it for the state of Maine. If we lose her, we’re going to lose a lot. We need to fix our roads and bridges. [Maine’s] got somebody there that really could help us.”
Her transportation portfolio is wide-ranging. For instance, this year she applauded the Maritime Administration for awarding a grant of more than $4 million to the Maine Port Authority.
Per the national infrastructure grants program, known as BUILD (Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development), Maine was recently approved about $45 million for transportation projects along rural parts of the state.
“Improving Maine’s infrastructure is one of my top priorities as chairman of the Transportation Appropriations subcommittee. I am delighted to announce this $45 million investment to replace and rehabilitate deteriorated bridges that will benefit residents in rural Maine,” Collins has said. “If these bridges were allowed to continue to deteriorate, they would become subject to eventual closure, resulting in substantial detours and economic harm. These projects will strengthen our transportation network, helping Mainers reach their homes and jobs more quickly and supporting our economy. These structures represent vital connections necessary to support and sustain Maine’s local economies.”
The American Society of Civil Engineers issued a grade of C minus to Maine’s overall infrastructure. The state’s bridges also earned a C minus, and roads received a D.
“Maine’s roads are not meeting the customer service level goals set forth by the state legislature,” according to ASCE.
As part of the grants, the state’s department of transportation would receive $20 million to replace at-risk bridges in poor condition built almost a century ago.
Maine’s DOT also would receive $25 million to replace the 111-year-old Ticonic Bridge connecting Waterville and Winslow. A modern bridge featuring wider lanes, shoulders, sidewalks and bike lanes would replace the structure. The project is designed to eliminate the possibility of an 8-mile detour, which would lead to congestion.
During her term as the leader of the Appropriations subcommittee on transportation, Collins championed robust funding for the BUILD program, with a focus on rural infrastructure. Her office points to her work in helping to secure more than $721 million in grants for Maine.
“Through my travels around the state, I’ve seen firsthand the positive effects of investing in our railroads to help manufacturers and farmers ship their products to market and support jobs,” she said.
Collins is seeking reelection in a state that has supported democrats and independents in statewide contests. While she points to a solid record of bipartisanship — she voted to confirm Obama-era Supreme Court justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan — her vote for the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh has been used in attacks from her opponent. The Kavanaugh vote also has helped Gideon’s fundraising efforts; she had amassed nearly $24 million as of June, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Collins trailed by about $7 million. Neither candidate agreed to interviews for this article.
But Gideon appears to have made limited public statements about trucking policy; on transportation, her website cites innovation, energy, education, health care and women’s health.
And Gideon is an unknown for state freight officials and transportation insiders interviewed by Transport Topics. Jeff Davis, a senior fellow at the Eno Center of Transportation in Washington, said he knew little about the Maine speaker beyond her name.
A Gideon defeat of Collins could, “really affect the change of distribution of discretionary grants,” Davis said.
Gideon echoes the Democrats’ message of weaving climate change action into infrastructure policies. For instance, she has touted the potential benefits of adopting policies on severe-weather resilient infrastructure, and she promotes the use of electric vehicles.
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Gideon touts potential environmental benefits from renewable energy, while her overall record on transportation is primarily anchored on local projects. But she also champions having a federal response to climate change. The Sierra Club has endorsed her candidacy.
“Here in Maine, we feel the impact of climate change on our environment and our economy, as its impact threaten our woods and waters and our traditional industries like lobstering and logging,” Gideon said last month.
During her career, Gideon also led the passage of legislation to dedicate $4 million to upgrade culverts. The measure aimed to enhance and restore rivers, streams, and fish and wildlife habitats while helping communities to prepare for storms and floods.
A website for Gideon, who is serving her fourth term in the Maine House of Representatives and second as speaker, said she worked to promote clean and renewable energy:
“Reduction of harmful, polluting carbon emissions, low-cost energy and an economy powered by clean energy is a future we all need to be fighting for,” she said.
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