NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Opinion

May 28, 2013

Let's get wheels turning on road repair money

Be careful, drivers. If your local streets seem bumpier than usual this summer and fall, you may have state government to thank.

Your local departments of public works like to spend the warmer months filling potholes, repaving winter-ravaged roads and rebuilding sidewalks. They rely on so-called Chapter 90 money from the state to help do so; work can’t begin until that cash is on its way from Beacon Hill.

For the second year in a row, however, that money is being held up as lawmakers haggle over other issues.

As the prime work months of April and May passed by, the local road and bridge spending got caught up in the larger debate between the Legislature and Gov. Deval Patrick over how best to address the state’s massive, chronic transportation woes. The price tag for that fix depends on which plan you prefer; in any case, we’re talking several hundred million dollars a year for the better part of a decade.

By comparison, the few hundred million the state sets aside every year for local projects seems like pocket money. But while it may be small change on Beacon Hill, it’s big money locally. And it needs to be spent soon, before the prime work season ends.

“Because of problems getting road funds out last year, cities and towns missed about 60 percent of the repair season and that meant that thousands of miles of roadways in Massachusetts that needed repairs did not get them,” Salem DPW Director David Knowlton, president of the Massachusetts Highway Association, wrote in a letter to state senators this week.

“If delays continue to dog the bill this year, we will begin seeing roads that require replacement instead of simple repair,” Knowlton said.

The good news is that the House and the Senate have both agreed on spending $300 million in Chapter 90 money in the coming year, up from last year’s $200 million. Patrick, after some hemming and hawing relating to the cool reaction to his call for new taxes and more spending, appears to be on board as well. Now it’s time to end the foot-dragging and enact and sign the bill and push through a companion borrowing bill to get the money to our local communities.

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