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Editorial: A rough road ahead

Ned Huntley, director of the Northampton DPW, is one of many local officials hoping the state will come through with money for road repairs.

.JERREY ROBERTS Ned Huntley, director of the Northampton DPW, is one of many local officials hoping the state will come through with money for road repairs. Purchase photo reprints »

Looks like we’re in for another summer of driving dangerously. Local communities, like those across the state, had hoped that the state would pony up Chapter 90 transportation funds by the normal allocation deadline of April 1. That’s not happening.

This would have given communities time to plan and execute the many road projects that are sorely overdue. Most of this work usually gets done May through September.

But with Gov. Deval Patrick and the state Legislature at odds over how much to spend and how to generate these extra millions of dollars, it is increasingly likely that no funds will be forthcoming until sometime later this year.

The state usually raises these funds from a portion of the gas tax — another measure that’s also being debated.

Add to that the fact that the Chapter 90 funding is tied to a massive 10-year transportation bill that also has to be hashed out and you begin to understand why bureaucracy is spelled “b-o-g-g-e-d d-o-w-n.”

With our roads in ever more disrepair, this means that projects are delayed, put on hold and even filed under “at a later date.”

These Chapter 90 funds are targeted for local road construction and resurfacing. The state parcels out Chapter 90 money based on road miles, population and the number of people working in a community.

The domino effect of delayed funding means work that could be done less expensively now ends up costing more later.

The sad fact is that even though these funds are counted on to get this crucial work done, the final accounting is sure to come up short. The Massachusetts Municipal Association reported last year that the state should commit $562 million annually for Chapter 90 funding; Patrick’s 10-year transportation bill allots $300 million per year. Last year about $200 million was allocated.

The proposal by House and Senate leaders targets about $150 million per year for the work.

The governor has already threatened to veto this plan, which the House takes up Monday.

So we already know that the money that dribbles down to us — sometime approaching Labor Day — will not be sufficient. This means that our communities must pick up the slack or not do the road work. Some choice.

Amherst is funding some of this work through bonds worth $5.5 million. The town faces a $16 million backlog in road projects. Northampton has a backlog of road projects totaling $38.1 million. Easthampton, like many communities, relies solely on Chapter 90 funds to maintain its 80 miles of roads. The city works on about a mile of road a year when it should be doing closer to eight.

These tales are similar in all our communities.

It’s inexcusable that the governor and the Legislature can’t do their work in a timely manner. After all, the Chapter 90 legislation was only created 40 years ago.

Their procrastination adversely affects every community and every person who drives or rides in a vehicle.

It looks they’re taking us all for a ride.

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