Berkshire reps seek increased state funds for road repair
PITTSFIELD -- Berkshire highway superintendents want Gov. Deval L. Patrick to back a proposed $100 million increase in state aid to fix municipal roads -- some on the verge of beyond repair.
Last week, the Massachusetts House of Representatives proposed boosting so-called Chapter 90 money from $200 million to $300 million for fiscal 2015 starting July 1.
Lawmakers approved a similar funding hike in 2013 for the current fiscal year, only to have the governor pull the plug in August, because of a lack of revenue. State officials say the 3-cent increase in the state gasoline tax wasn’t enough to pay for more state aid to repair and maintain city and town roads.
Given Massachusetts officials want to maintain Chapter 90 money at $200 million as part of a five year, state-wide transportation plan, local highway bosses expect any proposed increase request will fall on deaf ears.
"How can we trust the [Patrick] Administration to come up with this plan again," said Richmond Highway Superintendent Jerry Coppola.
Becket Highway Superintendent Chris Bouchard says municipal road bosses are miffed because they were promised the extra highway funds for fiscal 2014, if they supported the higher gasoline tax.
"This plundering of funds has hit cities and towns hard," Bouchard noted. "We need to fix our roads or we’ll have the most expensive gravel roads, ever."
Bouchard and Coppola were commenting during a recent Massachusetts Department of Transportation hearing into MassDOT’s proposed $12.4 billion Capital Investment Plan. The CIP proposal calls for level funding Chapter 90 money through fiscal 2018.
Monday’s hearing was one of six being held prior to the MassDOT Board of Directors scheduled vote on the transportation plan at its Feb. 12 meeting.
The funding strategy -- subject to state legislative approval every year -- dedicates $6.5 million toward state highway improvements with only $1.58 million for municipal roads.
In addition, MassDOT wants to see $473 million set aside for rail and mass transit, the majority going to the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA) that primarily serves the Greater Boston area.
However, state highway officials say the plan is already in trouble, facing a possible $55 million revenue shortfall for fiscal 2015. They told the small gathering at the Pittsfield hearing significant increases in Registry of Motor Vehicle fees are being considered to close the gap, or cut $55 million from the transportation plan. MassDOT officials couldn’t say which of the RMV fees will be targeted, but two Berkshire state lawmakers worry the increase will benefit MBTA riders more than Berkshire motorists.
State Reps. Tricia Farley-Bouvier and Gail Cariddi say county drivers pay millions in fees only to see it go to Boston mass transit. They worry increasing the cost of driver’s licenses, registrations, etc. won’t fully benefit needed road repairs in the Berkshires and Western Massachusetts.
"The money goes to people who go through more sneakers than tires," Cariddi.
Farley-Bouvier suggested a special assessment to cars registered within the MBTA service area to help fund Boston-area public transportation, instead of higher registry fees for all.
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