MMA letter to Transportation Committee urging Ch. 90 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 that Governor Baker has begun the Chapter 90 authorization process by filing H. 73, An Act Financing Improvements to Municipal Roads and Bridges. We respectfully and urgently ask you and the members of your committee to approve a multi-year $300 million Chapter 90 bond bill as soon as possible, so that the measure can be signed into law by the April 1 deadline, and cities and towns can begin the construction season on time.
The MMA is asking that the Chapter 90 bond authorization in H. 73 be increased from a one- year $200 million amount to a multi-year $300 million-a-year 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. A $300 million authorization, with an inflation-based adjustment, will enable 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 believe that a multi-year authorization is needed to allow cities and towns to plan effectively at the local level. When Chapter 90 authorizations are enacted on a year-to-year basis, there is much uncertainty and little predictability regarding the amount and the timing of the funds. This makes 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.
In order to avoid frustrating and costly delays in the start of the 2017 spring construction season, we respectfully request that you act on this bill as soon as possible. It is important for the Legislature to enact a new Chapter 90 authorization before April 1. 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, making repair work more costly for taxpayers.
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. Chapter 90 is the most effective and efficient way to ensure regional equity and regional access to state transportation tax revenues. Further, cities and towns face such a backlog of need that increasing the program to $300 million will immediately result in visible and necessary construction and repair projects on local roads across Massachusetts – this is exactly what happened in the 2015 construction season, when communities received $300 million in Chapter 90 funds. Unfortunately, the annual authorization has been reduced to $200 million in recent years, and cities and towns are falling even further behind in maintaining their roads.
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 increasing Chapter 90 funding to the $300 million level, because a lower level of investment in the short term will certainly cost taxpayers much more in the long term.
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.
Geoffrey C. Beckwith MMA Executive Director & CEO
CC: The Honorable Robert DeLeo, Speaker of the House
The Honorable Stanley Rosenberg, Senate President
The Honorable Members of the Joint Committee on Transportation