MMA report cites $362M funding gap for local road maintenance needs

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Waltham Councillor Robert Logan, the president of the MMA, discusses the MMA’s Chapter 90 report.The MMA today released a report documenting that the state’s cities and towns face a $362 million annual shortfall for maintaining local roads and bridges.

Based on data collected from cities and towns across the state, the report finds that communities in Massachusetts would need to spend $562 million every year to rebuild and maintain local roads in a “state of good repair,” but communities spend far less because of inadequate resources.

“The result can be seen in potholes and crumbling roads across the state,” the report states.

Chapter 90, the state program to reimburse cities and towns for the cost of maintaining local roads, provides $200 million per year, which is just 36 percent of the actual need, according to the MMA report. The MMA and local officials are calling for a $100 million increase in annual funding for the Chapter 90 program, asking state leaders to commit to $300 million per year over the next five years to help close the gap and get local roadways in Massachusetts much closer to the “good repair” industry standard.

“Funding for local roads across the state is dangerously low,” said MMA President Robert G. Logan, a city councillor in Waltham, “and now is the time to invest. The more we delay, the more this will cost taxpayers in the long run.”

The MMA report states that investing more in Chapter 90 funding to improve the quality of local roads will actually save taxpayers millions of dollars a year. The report cites a U.S. Department of Transportation study that finds that every dollar invested to keep a road in a state of good repair (once it has reached that point) saves six to 10 dollars that would be needed to rebuild the road if it’s allowed to deteriorate and requires more extensive repairs.

“If Massachusetts fails to pass a comprehensive transportation finance plan to address the critical funding needs at the local and state levels,” the report states, “taxpayers will face massive bills over the next 20 years to reconstruct a deteriorating system.”

The MMA and local officials also argued that the investment is essential for the state’s economic future.

“Cities and towns are responsible for 30,000 miles of roads in Massachusetts, and Chapter 90 funding must be increased to prevent these roads from deteriorating and crumbling,” said MMA Executive Director Geoff Beckwith. “Economists and transportation experts all agree – cities and towns must have enough funds to maintain and rebuild local roads so that we can build a stronger economy, create jobs, ensure safe roadways, and enhance our quality of life.”

Local leaders from across Massachusetts joined the MMA at the State House to release the report. They said an increase in Chapter 90 funding is the most effective way to close the local transportation funding gap and invest in improved roadways in all communities.

Danvers Assistant Town Manager Diane Norris, chair of the MMA’s Transportation Policy Committee, explained the MMA’s recommendation of $300 million per year for Chapter 90 and a five-year bond bill.Danvers Assistant Town Manager Diane Norris, chair of the MMA’s Transportation Policy Committee, explained the MMA’s recommendation of $300 million per year for Chapter 90 and a five-year bond bill.

“If we were assured of predictable funding for road and bridge maintenance, we could plan more cost-efficient use of the funds,” she said. “It is too costly to maintain the status quo.”

Braintree Mayor Joseph Sullivan, a former legislator and chair of the House Transportation Committee, highlighted the importance of the Chapter 90 program and the economic benefits statewide.

Fitchburg Mayor Lisa Wong described how her city is forced to use Community Development Block Grant funds to offset part of the Chapter 90 gap, taking valuable money away from other economic development projects.

Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone outlined the importance of Chapter 90 as part of a comprehensive transportation strategy to build strong communities.

Sheffield Selectman Rene Wood discussed the vital importance of Chapter 90 to smaller communities in every corner of Massachusetts.

Massachusetts Highway Association President Mike Valenti explained the need for timely release of Chapter 90 funds and pointed out how delays cost money.

Spencer Highway Superintendent Steven Tyler outlined the importance of keeping roads in a good state of repair and described his town’s pavement management program.

The state created the Chapter 90 program in 1973 to share a portion of gas tax revenue with communities to ensure adequate resources for local road construction needs. Almost 40 years later, however, funding for the Chapter 90 program is far short of the actual need – in large part because construction costs have escalated sharply. Significant increases in the cost of fossil fuels have been driving up the price of construction materials such as asphalt and steel.

Under Proposition 2½, cities and towns are unable to increase the amount of local funds used to supplement Chapter 90 unless they cut other important services such as public safety or education, or pass a tax override, increasing local reliance on the already overburdened property tax.

The MMA and local officials across the state are also members of the broad coalition of stakeholders calling for a comprehensive state and local transportation finance plan, recognizing that the entire Commonwealth will benefit greatly from increased revenues to invest in local and state roadways and highways as well as regional transit systems.

The Patrick administration and legislative leaders are expected to begin discussions next month about a new statewide transportation financing proposal.

Download comprehensive MMA report that identifies funding needs for local roads and bridges (175K PDF)
Written by MMA Publications Editor & Web Director John Ouellette