MMA letter to Transportation Committee urges quick action on Chapter 90 and increase to $300M

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The Honorable William Straus, House Chair
The Honorable Thomas McGee, Senate Chair
Joint Committee on Transportation
State House, Boston
 
Dear Chairman Straus, Chairman McGee and Members of the Committee,
 
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 Governor Baker’s important first step in beginning the Chapter 90 authorization process by filing H. 4010, An Act Financing Improvements to Municipal Roads and Bridges. We respectfully and urgently ask you and your colleagues in the General Court to amend this bill 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.
 
The MMA would like to thank you for your dedication to funding for local roads and bridges. The support for Chapter 90 in the Legislature made it possible for Governor Baker to release $100 million in road repair funds on the day he took office last year. Additionally, you passed a $200 million Chapter 90 bond bill, providing cities and towns with $300 million to put towards local roads and bridges during last year’s construction season. 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.
 
In order to ensure the timely release of Chapter 90 funds for fiscal 2017, we respectfully request that you act on H. 4010 as soon as possible. It is important for the Legislature to enact a new Chapter 90 authorization before April 1 in order to avoid costly delays and a shortened construction season. When cities and towns are forced to bid, award and start work on projects in a significantly shortened season, bid responses tend to be the most expensive.
 
The MMA asks that your committee increase the bond authorization from $200 million to a multi-year $300 million bond authorization. An analysis by the MMA in 2014 documented that cities and towns across the state need to spend at least $639 million every year to maintain and bring 30,000 miles of local roads into a state of good repair. Currently, municipalities spend far less because of inadequate resources and because, for most cities and towns, Chapter 90 is the main or sole source of funds for road construction and repair. 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 request that you pass a multi-year, $300 million-a-year Chapter 90 bond. A multi-year bill is important, as this would significantly improve the ability to plan at the local level. For too long, Chapter 90 authorizations have lurched from year-to-year, with little predictability and much uncertainty regarding the amount and the timing. This has made it difficult for communities to plan multi-year projects or know how many years it will take to 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.
 
In addition to the Chapter 90 authorization, the bill filed by Governor Baker includes an authorization for a new small bridges program, to be funded at $50 million over 5 years. The program would provide funding for the design, construction, preservation, reconstruction and repair of non-federally aided bridges and approaches with span lengths no greater than 20 feet. The new program, the first of its kind, would help municipalities fix or replace small, municipally owned bridges. Statewide, there are approximately 1,300 small bridges that cover spans of 10 to 20 feet that are not eligible for federal assistance.
 
We respectfully request that the Joint Committee on Transportation advance this vital legislation as soon as possible, and ask that both the House and Senate act swiftly to pass a multi-year $300 million Chapter 90 bill, so that cities and towns can improve and maintain our existing infrastructure, and build a stronger economy in every corner of Massachusetts.
 
Thank you very much.
 
Sincerely,
 
Geoffrey C. Beckwith
MMA Executive Director & CEO