Auburn Town Manager Julie Jacobson (left) and Mount Washington Select Board Member Jim Lovejoy (right) testify a preliminary hearing on Chapter 90 on March 9.

At a preliminary hearing on March 9 before the Joint Committee on Transportation, the MMA and local officials pressed their case for a $100 million increase in the Chapter 90 local road and bridge program to help offset a substantial loss of purchasing power due to the base funding being level-funded for the past 11 years.

MMA Executive Director Geoff Beckwith testified that the inflation-adjusted level of state support for Chapter 90 would drop to $117 million — a loss of $83 million in purchasing power over 11 years (42.6%) — under the bond bill currently before the committee for fiscal 2023 (H. 4358).

The MMA submitted written testimony that includes a chart showing the declining value of Chapter 90 funds.

Beckwith and local officials emphasized the urgent need for a permanent increase in the Chapter 90 bond authorization to $300 million per year, indexed to grow with inflation. They also asked the committee to support a multiyear bill, in order to provide predictability for local budgets and road project planning.

Auburn Town Manager Julie Jacobson said her town receives approximately $600,000 in Chapter 90 funds per year, but it needs to spend $2.4 million per year to keep up with its 20-year pavement management plan. Over the past 10 years, she said, Chapter 90 represented just 42% of the town’s roadway improvement budget, leaving the town to fund more than half the costs.

Mount Washington Select Board Member Jim Lovejoy testified that his town has 20 miles of roads, portions of which serve three state parks, but receives just $70,000 per year in Chapter 90 funding.

“This is not very much, in today’s construction scenario, to get work done,” he said. “Chapter 90 is something that we depend on on a regular basis to match with town funds, dollar for dollar, to do basic maintenance. … With the climate changes that we’re experiencing, it’s becoming more and more difficult.”

Like many communities, the town of Dedham has invested in a pavement management program, but is finding it harder to fund scheduled maintenance due to the increasing costs of materials and construction, Public Works Director Joseph Flanagan testified.

The MMA panel also emphasized the importance of timely passage of the Chapter 90 bill, and an accompanying bond terms bill, so that cities and towns can spend their fiscal 2023 allocations during the spring construction season. In both 2020 and 2021, a Chapter 90 bond law was not enacted and signed until July.

In mid-February, Gov. Charlie Baker filed a $2.4 billion spending bill that included a one-time, $100 million supplemental appropriation for Chapter 90, but the House and Senate have removed that line item from their versions of the bill. The branches have, however, included the governor’s separate $100 million line item for a winter road recovery assistance program. The winter road funds would be distributed to all cities and towns based on a formula, and could be used for the rehabilitation, reconstruction, resurfacing or preservation of roadways.

The MMA panel expressed support for the one-time, supplemental funding, but reiterated that it should not be used as a substitute for a long-awaited increase in the base funding for Chapter 90.

At the hearing, Transportation Committee members indicated their intent to act quickly on a Chapter 90 bond bill. Once the committee reports out a bill, it is expected to go to the House Committee on Bonding, Capital Expenditures and State Assets.

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