On July 16, Gov. Charlie Baker signed a $350 million transportation bond bill that level-funds the Chapter 90 local road and bridge program at $200 million.

The law adds $150 million for six municipal grant programs to the transportation bond bill passed at the end of the 2020-2021 legislative session. The final version of the law represents a consensus between House and Senate versions, debated and voted on in recent weeks, with each branch proposing additional funds for a different combination of grant programs.

The law authorizes an additional $25 million each for the municipal small bridge program; a bottleneck relief program; transit-supportive infrastructure; municipal bus transit; municipal mass transit access; and electric vehicles and related infrastructure.

In comments to reporters on July 15, Rep. William Straus, House chair of the Joint Committee on Transportation, explained the Legislature’s approach.

“Philosophically,” he said, “I think the Legislature’s goal here is to think of the state help to the municipalities in two ways: not just the traditional Chapter 90, but we’re also now suggesting people think of state assistance in terms of these guided and directed programs for congestion issues, as well as public transit.”

The MMA has consistently urged the Legislature to increase Chapter 90 funding to at least $300 million per year, indexed to inflation, and to pass multiyear bills in order to assist with local planning efforts. Although the state has added several targeted, competitive road funding opportunities for municipalities in recent years, the MMA continues to argue in its testimony that “there is no substitute for the core Chapter 90 program,” which is “the only non-competitive program that maintains local control over how to spend the dollars on local road projects” and the only one that benefits all 351 cities and towns.

After signing the Chapter 90 bill, Gov. Baker filed a terms bill, which authorizes the state to issue bonds for capital financing. Once the terms bill becomes law, the funds can be released to cities and towns.

Municipal leaders received notice of their anticipated Chapter 90 allotment in late February, but they cannot begin spending the funds until the Chapter 90 terms bill is finalized.

Through the Chapter 90 program, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation reimburses cities and towns for costs incurred for eligible transportation projects. Funding is awarded by municipality and is predetermined by a formula that includes factors such as population, road miles, and employment.

Chapter 90 funding has been held at $200 million since 2012, with a few one-time exceptions.

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