The Senate today approved a $300 million local infrastructure bond bill that includes $200 million for the Chapter 90 local roads and bridges program for fiscal 2022.

The Senate bill differs from an infrastructure bond bill passed by the House on June 22, but both bills would keep Chapter 90 funding at $200 million, where it has been since 2012 with a few one-time exceptions.

The House bill would add $75 million across three municipal transportation grant programs administered by the Department of Transportation, while the Senate bill would add $100 million.

The House bill would increase the Municipal Small Bridge Program from $70 million to $95 million, boost a municipal bus transit program from $25 million to $50 million, and double funding for a municipal program to enhance access to mass transit and commuter rail stations, from $25 million to $50 million. The Senate bill includes these items and would add $25 million for development of electric vehicle infrastructure.

It is unclear at this time how the House and Senate will resolve differences between the two bills.

At a March 9 Transportation Committee hearing — and at many previous hearings — the MMA urged legislators to increase Chapter 90 funding to at least $300 million per year, and to support a multiyear bill in order to provide predictability for cities and towns. The state has added several targeted, competitive road funding opportunities for municipalities in recent years, but the MMA argued 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.

The MMA also emphasized the importance of finalizing the Chapter 90 bill as quickly as possible so that cities and towns can access their allotment and begin the spring construction season on time. The Transportation Committee, however, held the bill for nearly two months this spring.

With the state tax collections running billions of dollars ahead of budget benchmarks, the MMA on June 24 asked Gov. Charlie Baker to supplement the Chapter 90 program this year with $200 million from a fiscal 2021 year-end budget.

“This is also a time to use the state’s envious fiscal position to make vital investments in areas not covered by [the American Rescue Plan Act], and as such, we ask you to prioritize supplemental funding for the Chapter 90 local road program,” the MMA wrote. “This investment would address a vital long-term need that is essential to our economic recovery and growth.”

The MMA argued that cities and towns “desperately need an increase in locally controlled funds used to maintain 30,000 miles of local roads and bridges in a state of good repair.” MMA surveys indicate that cities and towns need $600 million in Chapter 90 funding to adequately fund municipal road and bridge projects.

“The reality is that the purchasing power of the Chapter 90 program has been substantially diminished since fiscal 2012,” the letter continued.

In addition, “Because cities and towns cannot award contracts based on Chapter 90 reimbursements until official notifications are received, late passage of the Chapter 90 bond bill, this year and in recent years, has forced communities to bid, award and start work on projects in a significantly shortened timeline and construction season, driving up the cost of projects due to more expensive bid responses, and reducing the scope of work accomplished.”

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.

Written by