The Honorable William M. Straus, House Chair
The Honorable Joseph A. Boncore, Senate Chair
Joint Committee on Transportation
State House, Boston

Dear Chair Straus, Chair Boncore, and Distinguished Committee Members,

On behalf of the cities and towns of the Commonwealth, the Massachusetts Municipal Association is writing with comments regarding the Governor’s $18 billion transportation bond bill, An Act authorizing and accelerating transportation investment (H. 4002). The MMA appreciates the commitment of funding dedicated to a number of municipal programs in the bill, along with the billions of dollars of investment in transportation infrastructure that will benefit all who live in, work in, or pass through Massachusetts.

The transportation bond bill would provide funding for several local road programs, including $70 million for the Municipal Small Bridge Program, $20 million for the Complete Streets Funding Program, and $100 million for a new Municipal Pavement Program. MMA member communities across the Commonwealth have been beneficiaries of the Complete Streets and Small Bridge grant programs, using these funds to pay for discrete projects that would be difficult to complete without state support. The MMA applauds the Administration for maintaining funding for these programs in the bond bill. The MMA also appreciates the addition of the new pavement grant program, which would fund improvements to locally-owned, state-numbered routes. We know from our members that it is costly to maintain the condition of these roads, and the new grant program is a step in the right direction toward increasing cost-sharing with the state.

Despite the investment of $190 million in dedicated municipal funding programs included in the transportation bond bill, the MMA was frustrated to see the Chapter 90 program re-authorized for only one year at the flat $200 million level. The MMA has repeatedly called for an increase to the Chapter 90 program because it is the only source of unrestricted, equitably-distributed local road funding available to cities and towns across the Commonwealth.

The MMA’s biennial survey of local road funding needs shows that local government needs to spend $685 million annually to maintain roads and bridges in a state of good repair. Cities and towns have appropriated local revenue and used municipal bond funds for local road repair programs, but cannot keep up with state of good repair work, especially in small towns, without some measure of regular growth in Chapter 90 authorizations. As you know, we have long requested increasing Chapter 90 to $300 million a year, indexed to grow with inflation each year for this purpose.

Chapter 90 bond-funded allocations have been stagnant at $200 million since fiscal 2012, except for fiscal 2015 when the Administration released $100 million in withheld authorizations to bring that year’s Chapter 90 funding to a very welcome $300 million. There have also been two smaller one-time supplemental authorizations ($30 million in fiscal 2015 for the Winter Recovery Program and $40 million in a cash appropriation in fiscal 2019 from the fiscal 2018 state surplus). Yet the challenging reality is that the purchasing power of the Chapter 90 program has been substantially diminished since fiscal 2012. According to our analysis, the real (inflation-adjusted) level of state support for local road projects has dropped by 25 percent to an inflation-adjusted $149 million in fiscal 2020. That is a loss of over $50 million in purchasing power over the past eight years. Please see the chart below for details.

 

The Chapter 90 program is an essential component of municipal capital plans across the Commonwealth, and communities rely on these funds to keep local roads passable and safe for motorists, cyclists, pedestrians and other roadway users. Chapter 90 funding provides necessary resources to maintain and build the 30,000-mile local transportation infrastructure system that serves as the platform for economic development, commerce and growth in every corner of the state. Municipal road projects are also increasingly important as local initiatives to respond to climate change and other environmental challenges, such as stormwater management. Chronic underfunding and the lack of a multiyear approach to Chapter 90 are holding back progress in our shared transportation and environmental policy goals.

When your Committee reports out the transportation bond bill, we respectfully ask that you increase the base Chapter 90 program up to $300 million a year, either in one year or phased-in over time. However, at the very least, we ask that you include a new mechanism to index future Chapter 90 authorizations to prevent the backward slide that communities are now experiencing. There are two indexing approaches that we recommend for your consideration. First, the Legislature could use the US DOT’s National Highway Construction Cost Index, which recognizes that construction inflation is influenced by certain concentrated factors in the construction marketplace.

The second method could be to index Chapter 90 to the average rate of growth in MassDOT’s Capital Investment Plan (CIP) authorizations. Looking back over three years, this reflects an average annual growth of approximately 5 percent. Between fiscal 2017 and 2019, MassDOT’s CIP has grown from $816 million to $953 million, an increase of 16.8%. Chapter 90 has remained fixed at $200 million, and has fallen from 24.5% to 21% of MassDOT’s CIP. At the very least, in order to provide stability and guard against the erosive impact of inflation, MassDOT should increase the Chapter 90 allowance to track its own CIP growth. A 16.8% increase in Chapter 90 from fiscal 2017 to 2019 would have lifted Chapter 90 to $233.6 million. If Chapter 90 remains flat and the Commonwealth’s transportation CIP increases, then cities, towns and local roads would be moving down on the state’s priority list.

Thank you very much for the opportunity to submit this letter of testimony. The MMA is proud to partner with the Legislature and Administration to improve transportation infrastructure throughout the Commonwealth. We respectfully request that this committee advance the transportation bond bill as soon as possible, maintaining funding for targeted municipal grant programs and with a long-overdue increase to the authorization for the Chapter 90 program. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to have your office contact me or MMA Legislative Analyst Ariela Lovett at (617) 426-7272 or alovett@mma.org at any time.

Sincerely,

Geoffrey C. Beckwith
MMA Executive Director & CEO