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

The Senate yesterday passed a bill that would allocate $300 million to the Chapter 90 local road and bridge program, a 50% increase over what has been available to cities and towns in recent years.

The vote took place in the Senate’s first formal session since its members agreed earlier this week to new rules for remote debate and roll call voting.

The House and Senate are now both on record in support of the $300 million funding level for the reimbursement program – a top MMA priority.

The House had increased funding for Chapter 90 in the $18 billion transportation bond bill it passed in early March, before the COVID-19 state of emergency. Following a months-long interruption in legislative business, the Senate chose to pass a separate Chapter 90 bill for fiscal 2021 in order to avoid further delays in getting notifications to cities and towns so they can plan projects.

The House and Senate must now work out their differences before passing a bill that includes Chapter 90 funding.

In addition to increasing Chapter 90, the Senate bill (S. 2746) would create a new MBTA Board of Directors to replace the Fiscal Management and Control Board, which is set to expire at the end of June. The new board would have seven members, increased from five, including one member chosen by the MBTA Advisory Board, which represents the interests of cities and towns in the T’s service area.

The Senate’s proposal for the MBTA board differs in other ways from the House’s proposal, which it included in its transportation bond bill in March. Differing approaches to the MBTA board, as well as the fate of the full $18 billion transportation bond bill, could hold up the Chapter 90 authorization even longer.

Sen. Joseph Boncore, Senate chair of the Joint Committee on Transportation, told the State House News Service that this will be the latest the Legislature has resolved Chapter 90 in recent memory.

The MMA has long advocated for an increase in Chapter 90 funding from the $200 million annual authorization that has remained flat for several years. The House and Senate votes to increase Chapter 90 to $300 million are hopeful signs that a permanent increase is around the corner. The MMA will continue to advocate with House and Senate leadership to finalize the Chapter 90 authorization at $300 million as soon as possible.

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