Region in line for extra road, bridge repair money from transportation package

  • A crew from Peckham Industries of New York prepares for a paving project over a 1.4-mile section of East Main Street (Route 116) in Plainfield, just west of the Ashfield town line, Sept. 15, 2021. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 8/4/2023 4:24:48 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Western Massachusetts lawmakers are touting a $375 million bond authorization for funding road and bridge repairs and other transportation needs that Gov. Maura Healey signed Friday.

“I think (rural towns) will be pleasantly surprised,” Sen. Jake Oliveira said Thursday. “It’s geared to low-population communities.”

Oliveira, a Ludlow Democrat whose district includes South Hadley, Belchertown and Granby, said the Senate took the lead in adding a new $25 million category based on road mileage.

This is in addition to the $200 million in funding in the bond authorization for the state’s Chapter 90 program, which allocates transportation funds under a three-way formula that factors in mileage, population and employment.

Sparsely populated towns with many miles of road lose out under this formula, Oliveira said, and officials from these towns have been advocating for a change for years. He said Sen. Paul Mark, D-Becket, whose four-county district covers the entire western fifth of the state and includes dozens of rural towns, worked with him to get extra help to these communities.

“The inclusion of $25 million in rural road funding is an important supplement to a wide-ranging package that will benefit our smallest municipalities where each dollar is crucial and so hard to come by,” Mark said in a statement.

Goshen Town Administrator Dawn Scaparotti said she was “cautiously optimistic” about the extra funding, though it’s not clear yet how the money will be allocated.

Still, she said she would like the Legislature to consider elevation in its funding formula. Towns at higher elevations deal with more snow and an extended freeze-thaw cycle, adding to the costs of road maintenance.

“Elevation matters,” she said. “We’ve never seen anything that takes that into consideration.”

Goshen has relatively few road miles — a shade under 25 — and with a population under 1,000 is set to receive approximately $104,000 in highway aid.

At Friday’s signing ceremony at Lowell City Hall, Healey also touted the $25 million included in the bill for mileage-based road repairs. The money will help towns that have “longer roads and fewer resources to maintain them,” the governor said.

“That’s the regional equity our administration is committed to advancing,” Healey said.

The Chapter 90 bill had languished in closed-door negotiations for weeks, underscoring the deepening tension between the House and Senate this legislative session.

The crux of the disagreement between the branches, which had passed nearly identical bills, revolved around where to spend certain grant money. Ultimately, conference committee negotiators raised the amount of transportation-related grants from $150 million to $175 million, including both $25 million programs that had differed in the House and Senate versions.

Oliveira said it’s essential the state gets the Chapter 90 money out promptly so communities can put it to work as soon as possible.

“This bill took a lot of work,” Oliveira said. “We think it’s a huge victory for western Massachusetts.”

In addition to road mileage, the bill includes $25 million for each of the following:

■The municipal small bridge program.

■The Complete Streets program, geared to all transportation modes.

■ Pavement and surface improvements.

■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.

Material from State House News Service was used in this report.


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