Boosted road repair funding still eludes municipalities

By CHRIS LISINSKI

State House News Service

Published: 03-24-2023 3:45 PM

City and town leaders are thankful that lawmakers tacked another $150 million onto a road and bridge maintenance funding bill, but they still want the Legislature to authorize more funding specifically for the Chapter 90 program.

Massachusetts Municipal Association Executive Director Geoff Beckwith urged the Bonding Committee, which on Wednesday pushed the bill to the next step in the process, to support a significant expansion of Chapter 90 from a one-year, $200 million authorization to a two-year, $660 million authorization.

Beckwith said the $150 million the Transportation Committee added to the bill (H 3546) for a variety of grant programs is helpful, though he noted that money would not become available to municipalities in the same way as dollars made available in the annual roadwork reimbursement program.

"The MMA supports and very much appreciates the various grant programs that the Committee has included in the bill. The challenge for communities is that these are project-specific competitive grant programs, and funding is not guaranteed," Beckwith said in a statement to the News Service. "Communities must apply, and then wait for a state decision on whether the funding will materialize, and the funds are not available to support pavement management programs (that's what Chapter 90 mostly does)."

"We support the grant programs, yet note that the prime account to maintain municipal roads would remain at $200 million, which is why we are respectfully asking the state to help restore Chapter 90's buying power," he added.

When lawmakers first dove into the original proposal Gov. Maura Healey filed -- which sought a two-year, $400 million authorization for Chapter 90 with no supplemental grant dollars -- the MMA warned that inflation over the past decade-plus has eaten away more than 70 percent of the purchasing power cities and towns get from the level-funded program.

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House Speaker Ron Mariano's office told the News Service the redrafted road and bridge funding bill would emerge for a vote Thursday, after the Transportation Committee advanced it Monday and the Bonding Committee gave its stamp of approval Wednesday.

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