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Officials warn Maine's $2.4 billion in federal funds for infrastructure projects may not go very far

Pat Wellenbach
AP file
Construction work continues on a bridge that spans the Fore River in Portland, Maine, on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2012.

Maine Gov. Janet Mills touted the coming benefits of federal infrastructure legislation as she spoke to an online transportation conference on Thursday.

"With more than $2.4 billion of that, of those federal funds, allocated to the state of Maine, we're going to modernize our vast, multimodel transportation system, while also making our infrastructure more resilient to the impacts of climate change," she says.

But another speaker, James Tymon of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, warned that rising materials prices could reduce the number of projects that can be done with the federal money.

"You're seeing, potentially, a 30% increase in the cost of materials that's going to offset some of that increase in the dollars that we're seeing through this bill," he says. "The other piece is the workforce piece. I think that all of us are struggling to attract good talent to the jobs that we have open."

Tymon says that contractors may have to pay more for scarce construction workers, which could also lead to higher costs.

Maine Transportation Commissioner Bruce Van Note said he doesn't blame contractors, whose bids on projects are sometimes higher than expected.

"Sure, when we're the owner and we're looking at the price, we get sticker shock. And we go, 'Oh my god, X% over estimate, what are we going to do?'" he said. "Do we have enough in contingency and those kind of things. So, it has a real impact and we have to think about it, but they are a part of a much broader, macroeconomic forces that are happening right now."

Van Note told conference goers that the state should get the message out that highway construction jobs are good jobs that can't be outsourced to any other country.

The annual gathering of Maine transportation professionals is being held online this year as a result of the pandemic.