Becket Highway Department employees work on a paving project last summer in the town. (photo courtesy Christopher Bouchard)

Gov. Charlie Baker on July 2 signed a bill to fund the Chapter 90 local road and bridge program at $200 million for fiscal 2021.

The Legislature passed the compromise bill on June 25.

Both the House and Senate had increased Chapter 90 to $300 million in bills passed this spring, but ultimately reverted to level-funding it at $200 million due in large part to the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on state revenues.

When the House voted to increase Chapter 90 in March, it also passed a companion bill that would raise new revenue for transportation programs. House Ways and Means Chair Aaron Michlewitz told the State House News Service last month that “it’s a little perplexing to figure out how we’re going to [increase] Chapter 90” without the new revenue.

Transportation Committee Co-chair Sen. Joseph Boncore told State House News on June 25 that he was “dismayed” to have to pass the lower Chapter 90 amount, but he felt it was important to reach a compromise quickly because of the “urgency of this matter,” with the construction season well underway.

The MMA, which has long advocated for an increase in Chapter 90 funding from the $200 million annual authorization that has remained flat for several years, will urge the Legislature and governor to supplement the $200 million authorization before the end of fiscal 2021.

The Chapter 90 reimbursement program represents the only source of unrestricted, non-competitive funds for local road and bridge maintenance and repair. A statewide analysis by the MMA in 2018 documented that cities and towns need a total of $685 million per year to get 30,000 miles of local roads and more than 2,500 local bridges up to a state of good repair, a best practice standard for maintaining capital assets.

The fiscal 2021 Chapter 90 authorization had been held up in recent weeks as the House and Senate worked out a compromise over the future of the MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board, which was set to expire at the end of June. Different proposals for the future of the board were passed by each branch. The compromise bill signed by the governor extends the current composition of the board until June 2021.

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