Half-billion added to state transportation upgrade plan
BOSTON >> Amid concerns about state borrowing levels, state transportation officials on Monday tacked on another roughly $500 million to the state's five-year capital investment plan, approving a $14.8 billion outlay for highways, transit and other priorities.
The amended plan would send $55.7 million to the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority for a new maintenance facility and newly includes work on Route 31 in Spencer and Route 114 in North Andover.
The plan also puts an additional $117 million toward MBTA bridges, $19.9 million more for highway capacity, and includes a $22.4 million increase for the all-electronic tolling set to go live later this year. In total the plan spends $335.4 million on highway capacity, $207.3 million on all-electronic tolling and $497 million on MBTA bridges.
Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack supported the amendment urging more funding for local roads.
While the $14.8 billion five-year capital plan is within the purview of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation Board and the MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board, the so-called Chapter 90 funding of local transportation is also the domain of the governor and Legislature.
Gov. Charlie Baker has said he plans to support local roads at a rate of $200 million annually for the next three years.
The board endorsed a "minimum" $200 million in annual Chapter 90 funding, and encouraged the Legislature to add a "greater amount of funding" to a matching grant program to encourage improvements to the state's roughly 6,000 local roads.
"The idea is to provide more funding to cities and towns but not as straight Chapter 90 money, but in a structure that encourages them to take better care of their assets," Pollack told reporters. She said Baker had proposed similar municipal incentive programs in his Chapter 90 bill and she said the board's vote was "consistent" with what the governor proposed.
Pollack has said the combined transit-highway capital plan emphasizes repair and modernization to the existing system over expansion of service.
"This is a fitness plan in many ways. By the word fitness I mean we're going to get in shape," said Braintree Mayor Joe Sullivan, a member of the MassDOT board.
Multiuse paths and bicycle facilities account for $220.5 million of the roughly $2.14 billion designated as expansion projects.
The MassDOT board on Monday also approved its $1.28 billion fiscal 2017 budget, which Pollack said assumes tolls will remain between Route 128 and the New York border on the Massachusetts Turnpike, though a decision has not yet been made on whether to keep those tolls in place.
Pollack said the transportation budget is somewhat removed from the flux facing the fiscal 2017 state budget because transportation dollars come from dedicated revenue streams. The House and Senate passed $39.5 billion budget bills before the Baker administration announced last week that it was reducing expected revenue by between $450 million and $750 million.
"Transportation dollars come out of the Commonwealth Transportation Fund, not out of the general fund, so there has not historically been a big change in that number," Pollack said.
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