Local Officials Renew Push for More Road Repair Dough
By Katie Lannan
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
BOSTON -- One of the earliest asks Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito received as they officially begin to look ahead to their second term was a familiar one: more money for local roads and bridges, early in the season, and with more predictability.
Repeating a request they’ve made in previous years, members of the Local Government Advisory Commission asked Tuesday for a road repair funding bill that provides $300 million annually for a period of multiple years.
“The key words are early and multiyear and at least $300 million,” Mount Washington Selectman Jim Lovejoy said.
“In addition to that, I would like to say that from a municipal perspective, these funds are critically important because they give us a certain amount of latitude,” Lovejoy said. “They give us options in both design and in paving, and the municipalities are able to put those monies where they’re most needed for our constituents at any given time. And truthfully, the level of funding at this point causes most of us to have to save the money from year to year and stockpile it in order to actually have enough money to actually do some of the projects that we need to have done.”
The Massachusetts Municipal Association every two years tallies up the amount of money required to bring local roadways into good repair and keep them in that condition. Geoff Beckwith, the association’s executive director, called the most recent total of $685 million “the highest level that we’ve seen.”
“One of the goals is to get up to that level with a combination of Chapter 90 money and local money, because in the long run that will actually save taxpayers -- state taxpayers and local taxpayers -- a lot of money because it’s much less expensive to maintain roads once it’s in a state of good repair,” Beckwith said.
The so-called Chapter 90 road repair bill is an annual agenda item on Beacon Hill, filed early each year by the governor and awaited by local governments eager to begin executing projects when winter ends.
In his first four years in office, Baker has filed a bill, typically in mid-February, proposing $200 million in local road funding. Groups including the MMA have been beating the drum for more money, and for a multi-year bill they say will help towns plan for larger projects.
Lt. Karyn Polito, who called into Tuesday’s commission meeting and participated via speakerphone, said she agreed with the association on the importance of an early road funding bill and noted the administration’s five-year capital plan “includes the Chapter 90 dollars.”
“But we do have to work with the Legislature to approve the release of those dollars and we start that process early, but they don’t always act on it as soon as we file it, so I think there’s maybe further discussion that we can have and we’d be happy to support you in that and work together on that,” Polito said.
This year, Baker filed his $200 million Chapter 90 bill on Feb. 13 and signed the final version, also clocking in at $200 million, 73 days later on April 27. While the House had agreed with Baker’s funding level and the one-year time span, the Senate had approved a three-year, $600 million bill. A conference committee appointed to reconcile the two versions ultimately opted for the House approach.