Becket Highway Department employees work on a paving project last summer in the town. In fiscal 2018, Becket received $238,326 in Chapter 90 funds. (photo Christopher Bouchard)

On June 6, Gov. Charlie Baker signed a one-year bond bill to fund the Chapter 90 local road and bridge program at $200 million for fiscal 2020.

The bill was filed by the governor in January and had its first legislative hearing before the Joint Transportation Committee in early March.

Throughout the legislative process, the MMA reiterated its call for a multiyear Chapter 90 bond authorization of at least $300 million per year, indexed to inflation. A statewide analysis by the MMA in 2018 documented that cities and towns need $685 million per year to keep local roads and bridges in a state of good repair (a best practice standard for maintaining capital assets).

The MMA has consistently asked for early filing, review and approval of a Chapter 90 bill. Although April 1 is the customary date for finalizing the Chapter 90 bond authorization, the signed law arrived two months later, delaying the construction season for municipalities. Municipal officials received a preliminary notice of their estimated Chapter 90 allocation earlier in the legislative process, but they are advised not to begin construction until the bond authorization is finalized.

In closing out the state budget for fiscal 2018 last October, the Legislature and governor authorized an additional $40 million in one-time funding for local roads and bridges, using the same Chapter 90 allocation formula. The MMA has been asking that any supplemental budget bill for fiscal 2019 include additional funding for local roads and bridges.

On May 13, the governor told reporters that he planned in the next month or two to file a major transportation infrastructure bond bill outlining his priorities for the next five years. The MMA submitted comments to the governor and Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack regarding the forthcoming bill, asking that they bring the base level of Chapter 90 funding up to at least $300 million and index future increases to the average rate of growth in the Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s Capital Investment Plan authorizations.

The Chapter 90 program has remained at $200 million per year since fiscal 2012 with two exceptions: fiscal 2015, when the governor released $100 million in withheld authorizations and allocated $30 million to a Winter Recovery Program, and last year’s one-time addition of $40 million.

Between fiscal 2017 and 2019, MassDOT’s CIP has grown from $816 million to $953 million, or 16.8 percent. Meanwhile, Chapter 90 has fallen from 24.5 percent to 21 percent of MassDOT’s CIP budget, according to an MMA analysis.

A 16.8 percent increase in Chapter 90 from fiscal 2017 to 2019 would have boosted funding to $233.6 million.

The purchasing power of the Chapter 90 program has been substantially diminished over the past eight years. The real level of state support for local road projects has dropped by 25 percent, the MMA analysis shows, to an inflation-adjusted $149 million in fiscal 2020 – a loss of more than $50 million in purchasing power.

The governor has not yet filed his transportation bond bill.

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