Wednesday, June 19, 2013
Residents of Maine's largest city got a nasty surprise last month when a water main collapsed during the morning rush hour, flooding a busy intersection, damaging cars and buildings.
The incident left much of Portland without water for several hours and led to a boil-water order for the entire in town peninsula, including many of the city's restaurants.
This should not have been a surprise.
Like much of Maine's aging infrastructure, the old iron pipes buried beneath Portland's streets for a hundred years of freezing and thawing are a logical place to expect a failure.
This is a problem seen throughout Maine. The Maine Section of the Society of Civil Engineers gave the state a barely passing grade overall for its infrastructure, but low grades in some sections.
Roads received a D, dams and municipal waste-water systems each received a D+. The group said the Legislature would have to invest much more than it has been investing to keep up with the kinds of improvements the state needs to its existing system.
Maine's economy is built on its infrastructure. Failures such as the broken water main in Portland create significant disruption to business and individuals. Owners of flooded cars who did not have collision insurance will take a loss.
As bad as it was, however, it could have been much worse. A catastrophic bridge failure, for instance, could have taken people's lives. Some of Maine's bridges are no more sound than Portland's water lines.
Neglect of infrastructure needs is a bipartisan failure that goes back many years. Gov. Paul LePage's stubbornness about issuing bonds, however, does not head the state in the right direction.
Lawmakers are deep in what has become an annual budget crisis, but deferring maintenance on key infrastructure projects should not be seen as a prudent response.
This state is not rich enough to live with a crumbling infrastructure.