MMA letter to Transportation Committee urging support for Ch. 90

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The Honorable William M. Straus, House Chair
The Honorable Thomas M. McGee, Senate Chair
Joint Committee on Transportation
State House, Boston

Re: Transportation Bond Bill—Chapter 90 Local Roads Program

Dear Chairman Straus, Chairman McGee, and Members of the Committee,

On behalf of the cities and towns of the Commonwealth, the Massachusetts Municipal Association strongly urges your immediate and favorable consideration of H. 3979, the Chapter 90 bond bill filed by Governor Patrick – and we strongly urge you to substantially increase the Chapter 90 allocation for fiscal 2013 above the $200 million level in the Governor’s bill. Based on our research, we believe an authorization of at least $300 million is needed to meet the needs that exist at the local level.

Swift passage of Chapter 90 legislation is vital, because the authorization amount remaining from the last transportation bond bill is nearly depleted. Unless the Chapter 90 bill passes this month, the state will miss its statutory April 1 deadline to notify cities and towns of their fiscal 2013 authorization amounts.

Cities and towns are responsible for maintaining, repairing and rebuilding nearly 90 percent of the roadways in Massachusetts. By securing new Chapter 90 authorizations quickly, you and your colleagues will ensure that local transportation needs are met, and cities and towns will be able to fulfill their vital obligation to maintain the transportation infrastructure that is essential for public safety, commerce and everyday living.

The MMA greatly appreciates the commitment that you and your colleagues in the Legislature have made to provide a timely and consistent release of Chapter 90 authorizations by April 1 each year. Official notification of Chapter 90 allocations is critically important because without this notice cities and towns would be unable to make full use of New England’s notoriously short construction season, and communities need adequate time to plan for the best and most efficient use of the funds.

Chapter 90 funds are essential to cities, towns, businesses, residents and local taxpayers, and while community leaders certainly appreciate your action to increase the program to $200 million this year, local officials in every corner of Massachusetts respectfully urge you to increase Chapter 90 funding to meet the actual need. The state Transportation Finance Commission projected a funding gap of $15 billion to $19 billion over the next 20 years just to maintain our current state and local transportation infrastructure, not including sorely needed improvements and expansions. As part of that projection, the commission estimated a $1 billion Chapter 90 spending shortfall. According to MMA research based on a comprehensive survey of cities and towns, the actual annual Chapter 90 need to maintain existing roadways is substantially more than $300 million a year. Further reflecting the call for increased funding, hundreds of local officials unanimously voted to advocate for an increase to the $300 million level at the MMA’s most recent Annual Meeting. We appreciate your efforts to provide this needed boost to invest in the transportation infrastructure that is so important to our communities, our economy and our quality of life.

We note that despite the Legislature’s swift and timely passage of last year’s Chapter 90 bond bill, there was a long delay in the actual release of the funds. While the Chapter 90 bond bill was enacted by the Legislature on time, the second step in the process, passing a “terms” bill, was not. The terms bill authorizes the State Treasurer to issue bonds to fund the Chapter 90 program after the bond bill becomes law. Unfortunately, the Administration did not file the terms bill until June 14 and did not sign the bill until July 28. Cities and towns had to wait until August to receive their funds from the Department of Transportation, causing localities across the state to miss a portion of the all-too-short local construction season.

We are asking that this year’s Chapter 90 bond bill be enacted as quickly as possible and that the Chapter 90 terms bill be filed and acted on immediately after the bond bill becomes law, so the Governor and the Legislature can meet the statutory obligation to provide official authorization levels to cities and towns by April 1, and ensure that the funds are available for distribution on July 1.

We also look forward to working with you and your colleagues on a strong multi-year Chapter 90 bill later this year that sets an annual authorization level of $300 million for the next several years, ending the need for an annual race to pass a bill by April 1, and providing cities and towns with the long-term clarity that is needed to adequately plan out their infrastructure improvement projects.

Your commitment to the Chapter 90 program will ensure safe and passable roads and bridges, and build stronger local economies. We ask you to support and enact Chapter 90 legislation as soon as possible to ensure a timely authorization for fiscal 2013.

Thank you very much.

Geoffrey C. Beckwith
Executive Director, MMA