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Regional transit agency hopes to boost profile, funding with video production

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Regional transit agency hopes to boost profile, funding with video production

PORTLAND — The Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System has created an eight-minute video to educate the public and, in the process, drum up support for underfunded projects.

As a federally funded program, PACTS cannot actively lobby state or federal officials for more funding. While the video presents viewers with the funding problem and asks them to get involved by contacting elected officials, it does not explicitly advocate for any specific piece of legislation.

PACTS Executive Director John Duncan said the video was sanctioned by administrators of state and federal transportation programs.

"We're walking a fine line," Duncan said. "We have to be careful about how we say things."

The video opens with the message: "A vital resource needs our help."

The first half of the production introduces to viewers to PACTS, which coordinates regional transportation plans and distributes federal and state funding for transportation projects to 15 communities from Biddeford to Freeport.

About half-way through, however, the otherwise upbeat background music turns into a somber, solitary piano melody, which is overlaid with images of rusty bridge joints, pot hole-pocked roads and crumbling concrete. 

The narrator says state infrastructure needs $500 million in maintenance and upgrades over the next 10 years, but the current funding formula will only produce $250 million.

At that point, the music grows more ominous, followed by a closeup of the hole that appeared last spring in the Veteran's Memorial Bridge, which carries 23,000 vehicles daily between Portland and South Portland.

"What you're looking at is a gaping hole in the Veteran's Bridge," the narrators says. "This hole reflects the conditions that many of the roads and bridges are in throughout our state."

The video does not mention that the bridge is scheduled for a $63 million replacement by 2012.

The narrator then says the average age of buses in the region's fleet is 14 years, "well past their economic and environmentally useful life." Meanwhile, ridership on Portland's METRO has increased 23 percent since 1999.

The message – and music – turns more hopeful at the end, with shots of the Blaine House, U.S. Capitol and and U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine.

The narrator suggests that a 5 cent-per-gallon gas tax would only cost the average driver $30 a year, while additional car repairs from driving on poor roads will cost that same driver $260 a year.

"It's pay now," he warns, "or pay a lot more later. ... Your leaders need guidance."

While some rail activists have criticized PACTS for focusing too much attention on roads, Duncan said he has largely received positive feedback about the video, which was produced by Mike McDade at Falmouth Community Television for $3,500.

Duncan said PACTS plans on producing future video spots that focus on more specific issues. In addition to YouTube, the videos are running on community television channels in PACTS service areas.

Meanwhile, PACTS has has also created a blog, which was launched when the Portland City Council voted to accept the Portland Peninsula Transportation Plan, which recommends adding a bus-only lane on Congress Street, installing better signs for parking garages and posting more "no right turn on red" signs. 

"We're trying to get ourselves more in the public eye," Duncan said.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net