Berkshire highway superintendents are once again being told that addressing long-neglected municipal road projects is unaffordable. Actually, what is unaffordable is not addressing them. The longer roads go unrepaired in the punishing Berkshire climate the more costly it will be to fix them when the inevitable day comes when they can no longer be traveled.
This is an annual battle for the county road czars (Eagle, Feb. 7), who last March were lobbying unsuccessfully for an increase of $100 million to $300 million in Chapter 90 money and the release of that money separate from the overall budget so they won't waste prime construction months waiting for the Legislature's inevitable last-minute approval. The three-cent increase in the gasoline tax, which the local superintendents supported, was supposed to help alleviate perennial transportation funding woes, but state officials are now claiming that this was not enough to provide more state aid for the maintenance and repair of town and city roads.
Given how low the state's gasoline tax is compared to neighboring New York and Connecticut and how long it was stagnant, the three-cent hike was too modest, but an even bigger problem is the insatiable maw of the Boston-area Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA), the favorite child of the state Department of Transportation (DOT). State highway officials said at a meeting in Pittsfield last week that increases in Registry of Motor Vehicle fees are being considered to close a $55 million revenue shortfall for fiscal 2015, but Berkshire legislators are rightly skeptical that this additional revenue would simply be poured into the MBTA.
State Representative Tricia Farley-Bouvier, a Pittsfield Democrat, offered a better idea -- a special assessment to cars registered within the MBTA service area to pay for the MBTA's endless demands. This would presumably free up the modest amount of money needed by Berkshire highway chiefs, many of them in rural towns at high altitudes and with weather-beaten roads, to simply maintain and repair roads so their residents -- taxpayers just like Boston residents -- can safely travel them. That's not too much to ask.