In letter to House Ways and Means Committee, MMA calls for multi-year, $300M Chapter 90 bond authorization

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The Honorable Brian S. Dempsey, Chair 
The Honorable Stephen Kulik, Vice Chair 
House Committee on Ways and Means State House
State House, Boston

Dear Chairman Dempsey, Vice Chairman Kulik, and Distinguished Committee Members,

On behalf of the cities and towns of the Commonwealth, the Massachusetts Municipal Association is writing to offer our strong support for a multi-year $300 million Chapter 90 bond authorization. We appreciate the timely action by the Legislature to move Chapter 90 through the process in order to allow cities and towns to begin the construction season as soon as possible. We respectfully and urgently ask you and your colleagues in the General Court to expand the Chapter 90 bond bill, H. 4095, and approve a multi-year $300 million Chapter 90 bond bill by April 1 so that cities and towns can access these vital funds in time for the beginning of the spring construction season. We also ask that this committee restore important language that would direct the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to provide notice of the amount available to each city or town by no later than April 1, as is customary for Chapter 90 legislation.

The MMA would like to express its appreciation to you and your colleagues for your dedication to funding for local roads and bridges. Your strong support for Chapter 90 made it possible for Governor Baker to release $100 million in road repair funds on the day he took office last year. In addition, last year you provided cities and towns with $300 million to put towards local roads and bridges during last year’s construction season by enacting a further $200 million Chapter 90 bond bill to add to the $100 million released by Gov. Baker. Last year’s $300 million authorization enabled cities and towns to begin to properly fund local road improvement plans, including pursuing a state of good repair that is a best practice standard for maintaining capital assets.

We respectfully ask that you act on H. 4095 as soon as possible to ensure the timely release of Chapter 90 funds for fiscal 2017 (covering the 2016 construction season). It is important to enact a new Chapter 90 authorization before April 1 in order to avoid costly delays and a shortened construction season. In addition, we urge your committee to amend the bill by restoring long-standing language that would direct the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to provide notice of the amount available to each city or town by no later than April 1. This April 1 notification date is essential because it allows cities and towns to begin planning and going out to bid on projects.

When cities and towns are forced to bid, award, and start work on projects in a significantly shortened construction season, bid responses tend to be the most expensive, which means that delays in passage of the bond bill would lead to higher costs for taxpayers, and less overall construction work during the year.

The MMA asks that the bond authorization be increased from a one-year $200 million measure to a multi-year $300 million bill. According to a 2014 analysis conducted by the MMA, cities and towns across the Commonwealth need to spend at least $639 million annually to maintain and bring 30,000 miles of local roads into a state of good repair. Chapter 90 is the main or sole source of funds for road construction and repair for most cities and towns. Cities and towns are currently spending far less than the required amount due to inadequate resources, and funding the Chapter 90 program at $300 million annually, with an inflation-based adjustment, will close a portion of this huge gap.

In order to avoid frustrating and costly delays in the start of local road projects for fiscal 2017 and beyond, we are requesting a multi-year bond authorization. This is extremely important to facilitate and allow for adequate planning at the local level. When Chapter 90 authorizations lurch from year-to-year and communities are uncertain about their authorization levels, it is difficult to implement multi-year projects or effectively implement a comprehensive pavement management plan. Because a multi-year bill is best, we request that the authorization be indexed to account for inflation and protect against the loss of purchasing power.

We also note that the Chapter 90 program is the most effective and efficient way to ensure regional equity and regional access to state transportation tax revenues. The Chapter 90 program shares transportation revenues in a fair way in every corner of the Commonwealth, and lets taxpayers know that their local needs are recognized. Further, cities and towns face such a backlog of need that the increase will immediately result in visible and necessary construction and repair projects on local roads across Massachusetts.

Investing more in Chapter 90 funding to improve the quality of local roads will actually save taxpayers millions of dollars a year. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, once a local road is in a state of good repair, every dollar invested to keep it properly maintained will save $6 to $10 in avoided repair costs that become necessary to rebuild the road when it fails due to a lack of maintenance. This is a powerful argument in favor of keeping Chapter 90 funding at the $300 million level, because dropping down to a lower level of investment in the short term would certainly cost taxpayers much more in the long term.

Thank you again for your dedication and support for cities and towns. Your leadership over the years has built a stronger economy in every corner of Massachusetts, and we look forward to continuing that progress with a strong Chapter 90 bill in the coming days.

Thank you very much. 

Sincerely,

Geoffrey C. Beckwith 
MMA Executive Director & CEO