In The People's Blog

One of the biggest expenses municipalities incur every year is road and bridge maintenance. Particularly with climate change making extreme weather more frequent and severe, the amount that municipalities are spending on road and bridge maintenance is only increasing.

What’s more, some of our largest municipalities (geographically) have some of the smallest budgets. Take New Salem, which is more than 58 square miles but has a budget of $3.3 million, or Petersham which covers more than 68 square miles but has a budget of just over $5 million.

This means that the municipalities with the most miles of road to maintain don’t have much money to do it with. That’s where the state comes in.

The state’s program for providing funding to municipalities for the maintenance of local roads and bridges is called Chapter 90. This year the state authorized $200 million in Chapter 90 funding to be spread throughout the Commonwealth over the next two years.

The only problem is…that’s the same amount of Chapter 90 funding the state has provided since fiscal year 2012. A dollar does not go nearly as far in fiscal year 2024 as it did in 2012. The Massachusetts Municipal Association (MMA) illustrated this point perfectly during its testimony at a Ways and Means budget hearing on Education and Local Aid funding, which I chaired this spring.

Chairing the FY24 Education and Local Aid budget hearing at UMass, where MMA testified about insufficient Chapter 90 funding.

Here is a graph MMA created as part of their testimony, which illustrates the decline in purchasing power of Chapter 90 funding:

Unfortunately, the problems for rural and small towns don’t end there. Not only is the size of the Chapter 90 pie insufficient, the way the Chapter 90 pie is divided up is not fair to rural and small towns. The Chapter 90 formula relies too heavily on population and employment. Our rural towns have the road miles, and the expenses that come with them — but not the population. For example, although Petersham has about 653,000 fewer residents than Boston, it is 20 square miles larger.

For this reason, I have been fighting in the past few years for new streams of road and bridge funding for towns that are allocated according to a municipality’s road miles, and not allocated according to population or employment. 

We have had some success. Last year the state provided $50 million in Winter Road Assistance Program funding, and funds were distributed according to a road-mileage based formula.

But the biggest win came in this year’s budget, where the state realized the first year of revenue from the Fair Share amendment. Fair Share revenues must be spent on education and transportation, and the fiscal year 24 budget allocated $100 million of the Fair Share revenue for municipal roads and bridges.

I am tremendously proud that half of that $100 million was allocated using a road-mileage based formula. This is something I fought hard for, imagining that however we allocated the first year of Fair Share revenue would become the baseline for allocating Fair Share revenues in future years.

Last week, municipalities received their disbursements of this $100 million in Fair Share revenue. The amounts will significantly increase what our cities and towns will be able to accomplish and we will all benefit from safer roads and bridges and fewer detours.


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