By Katie Lannan
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, MARCH 30, 2022…..Passing a loan bill to fund repairs to local roads and bridges under the Chapter 90 program is an annual exercise on Beacon Hill, with city officials asking each year more than the 200 million dollars that are generally allocated.
As state officials on Wednesday unanimously passed a bill authorizing $200 million for the Chapter 90 program and an additional $150 million for other city transportation efforts, a key lawmaker in the Chamber said the conversation about local road money should be broader.
“There is a misnomer that Chapter 90 is the be-all and end-all and only means by which the state provides assistance for municipal roads and bridges,” said Rep. William Straus, chairman. of the House of Transport Committee, to the News Service. before the vote. “Chapter 90 is one piece of that puzzle.”
Cities and towns have long advocated $300 million in annual funding for roads and bridges and have asked lawmakers to pass multi-year bills that city leaders say would help them plan big projects.
Straus, a Democrat from Mattapoisett, said the House bill increases funds for municipal transportation projects, but “it’s just not in the single Chapter 90 category.”
“People need to think of what we’re doing as broader than just Chapter 90,” he said.
Matching the $200 million Chapter 90 allocation proposed by Gov. Charlie Baker in January, the House bill (H 4638) — an approach Straus called “Chapter 90-plus” — also authorizes $30 million for the repair of the small municipal bridge. program, $30 million for the Complete Streets grant program, $25 million for municipal grants for bus-related projects, and $25 million for grants supporting efforts to increase access to public transit and at commuter train stations.
It includes $40 million for the maintenance of state-numbered roads, which Straus says are more likely to be major roads and owned by the municipality, leaving cities and towns responsible for their upkeep.
Before passing the final bill, House Democrats in a party-line vote rejected an amendment by Rep. Kelly Pease that sought to increase Chapter 90 money to $225 million. dollars. Pease, a first-time Republican from Westfield, said road conditions are a top complaint from residents and that more money spent on Chapter 90 will help show that state lawmakers are prioritizing roads.
Straus, who during the debate over separate legislation earlier this month said the Chapter 90 formula needs to be reworked, asked his colleagues to reject Pease’s proposal in part because of “inherent problems” with the formula. During Wednesday’s session, he said revising the formula would be complicated, and lawmakers reached out to him to share how Chapter 90 is working or not working for their communities.
Representative William “Smitty” Pignatelli, a Democrat from Lenox who represents small towns in western Massachusetts, said one problem he has with the current formula is that his communities typically have a lot of road miles, but follow other areas in terms of employment and population.
The only other amendment tabled to the bill came from Braintree Democratic Rep. Mark Cusack, chairman of the House Revenue Committee. Cusack filed but withdrew without discussion an amendment that would have required the Massachusetts Municipal Association to publish online “salaries and compensation for all employees as well as portions funded by city and town contributions and all portions funded by Massachusetts Interlocal Insurance Association.”
The MMA, which represents local officials in the state’s 351 cities and towns, was the leading voice calling for more Chapter 90 funds.
Ahead of Wednesday’s session, MMA executive director Geoff Beckwith wrote to representatives again asking for $300 million a year, citing an estimated $600 million annual need to restore municipal roads to good repair and purchasing power “significantly diminished” since fiscal 2012 amid construction. inflation.
“If Section 90 remains at $200 million for fiscal year 2023, the actual (inflation-adjusted) level of state support for local road projects would drop 42.6% [sic], to $117 million adjusted for inflation for fiscal year 2023,” Beckwith wrote. “That’s an $83.2 million loss in purchasing power over 11 years.”