Senate Legislation Authorizing Chapter 90 Funding Should Benefit Rural Towns
On March 30, the Massachusetts State Senate passed a bill that includes $350 million in bond authorizations for transportation needs across the state, including $200 million for the state’s Chapter 90 program, which provides municipalities with a reliable funding source for transportation-related improvements, including road and bridge repairs.
“This legislation will maintain and improve our state’s infrastructure, ensure that residents have safe and reliable transportation options, and support sustainable, regionally equitable economic development in communities across the Commonwealth,” Senate President Karen Spilka said.
The legislation also authorizes $150 million in programs that will assist municipalities with various transportation-related projects. This includes $25 million each for the municipal small-bridge program, the Complete Streets program, a bus-transit infrastructure program, grants to increase access to mass transit and commuter rail stations, grants for municipalities and regional transit authorities to purchase electric vehicles and the infrastructure needed to support them, and new funding dedicated to additional transportation support based on road mileage, which is particularly helpful for rural communities.
“Rural towns do not have large municipal budgets like some Commonwealth cities; yet, with much smaller municipal budgets, they have been expected to maintain many hundreds more miles of roads than their urban counterparts.”
“By dedicating a $25 million fund to rural communities for road and culvert work, the Senate has once again demonstrated a commitment to regional equity,” state Sen. Jo Comerford said. “Rural towns do not have large municipal budgets like some Commonwealth cities; yet, with much smaller municipal budgets, they have been expected to maintain many hundreds more miles of roads than their urban counterparts. They have culverts in need of repair and a significant number of gravel and dirt roads. This rural program recognizes and begins to address these pressing, inequitable realities for rural communities, and I’m deeply grateful.”
In arguing for the bill’s passing, Comerford made a passionate appeal for relief for communities in her district, which includes parts of Hampshire, Franklin, and Worcester counties.
“I know Boston didn’t have a lot of snow this winter. That was not the case in my district. Just over two weeks ago, a number of towns in my district received over 24 inches of snow, some getting as much as 38 inches just in one storm,” she said. “The Hatfield DPW director wrote that, ‘due to the late storms, we have a lot of roads that have fallen apart and a lot of tree damage. With the costs of asphalt rising and the Chapter 90 funding staying the same, we will never catch up.’ The Greenfield DPW director told us, ‘due to many freezes and thaw cycles, our roads have shown accelerated deterioration, and our pavement-management program is really in shambles.’
She said the base amount being provided to communities has been static for many years, while costs are constantly rising. “Weather events are getting more extreme, putting more stress on roads and bridges and cleanup, and rural municipalities have many dirt and gravel roads, making up more than 30% of a municipality’s road network, in some instances, in my district. And this, of course, is exacerbated by climate change, the erosion and the disrepair of these roads.”
She noted that the existing Chapter 90 formula used to distribute funds — established more than 50 years ago — takes into account road mileage, but also population and employment. “But this doesn’t work for the places that don’t have the people, but do have the miles and miles of roads. Adjusting the base Chapter 90 formula to put more emphasis on road mileage is something that I respectfully urge us to consider.”
State Sen. Paul Mark, who represents all of Berkshire County among some communities in Hampden, Hampshire, and Franklin counties, agreed that the mileage-based calculation will greatly benefit smaller towns.
“In a district of 57 cities and towns, 54 of which have populations of fewer than 10,000 people, and in some cases communities as small as 120 residents, we live first-hand every day how difficult it can be to undertake road repairs, invest in new equipment, or have our voice heard in Boston,” he said.
Legislators outside Western Mass. also praised the bill’s passage.
“Our transportation system is the backbone of our Commonwealth, connecting us to our jobs, families, and communities,” said state Sen. Brendan Crighton, chair of the Senate Committee on Transportation. “This investment is not just an investment in infrastructure, but an investment in the future of our Commonwealth, enabling our cities and towns to make the necessary improvements to promote efficient and safe travel for all.”
State Sen. Edward Kennedy, chair of the Senate Committee on Bonding, Capital Expenditures, and State Assets, added that “I’m pleased to see this crucial investment in the Commonwealth’s roads and bridges move toward fruition. The cities and towns of Massachusetts depend on this necessary funding to maintain their transportation infrastructure.”
A different version of the bill having previously been passed in the House of Representatives, the two chambers will now reconcile differences before sending the bill to Gov. Maura Healey’s desk.