Plan would cut $1.18 billion from highway funding
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
BOSTON >> Bay State motorists receive short shrift in the state's five-year $14.3 billion transportation capital investment plan, according to the Construction Industries of Massachusetts, which said the plan would cut the highway division's capital budget by 27 percent over the next half decade.
The draft plan, which combines spending on the MBTA, highways and other transportation infrastructure, would reduce highway division capital spending to an average of $1.18 billion, down from the fiscal 2016 budget of $1.62 billion, according to the group, whose heavy construction members often hold public infrastructure contracts.
The plan emphasizes repair and modernization of the existing system rather than service expansion. The draft plan sends $2 billion toward bridge work and includes a 60 percent increase in spending on non-interstate highway, according to a plan summary.
The Construction Industries of Massachusetts warned that the percentage of the state's bridges deemed structurally deficient is "projected to increase to 17%, which will be among the worst in the nation," and cautioned that there is no plan to replace the eight-year $3 billion accelerated bridge program ending this year.
Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack has said that if the bridge investment in the five-year plan is extended a full decade the percentage of structurally deficient bridges in the state would drop to 2 percent.
The construction group also estimated that the percentage of non-interstate pavement conditions rated good to excellent would fall below 40 percent over the next five years under the plan. The state would need to spend $200 million to maintain the current rate of 64 percent good-to-excellent pavement while the draft plan spends $95 million, according to the construction industry.
The construction group, which protested what it said was a lack of investment in "capacity issues facing major interchanges," found common ground with the environmental advocacy group Conservation Law Foundation on overall transportation funding in the plan.
John Pourbaix Jr., the executive director of the construction industry group, told Pollack in written comments that "the simple fact is there isn't enough revenue to do what we need."
The Conservation Law Foundation argued not enough resources in the plan are devoted to MBTA buses, transit maintenance facilities in western Massachusetts and the replacement of Green Line trolleys.
The foundation successfully sued the state resulting in a Supreme Judicial Court decision that determined Massachusetts has not done enough to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which are expelled from automotive tailpipes among other outlets.
Jenny Rushlow, the Conservation Law Foundation's lead attorney on the case, previously told the News Service the Department of Environmental Protection "would be well served to look at the transportation sector" for potential emissions reductions.
Pourbaix said 88.9 percent of Bay State commuters drive or carpool to work and 70 percent of commodities worth $212 billion are delivered annually via highway. Motorists contribute $3 billion annually through state and federal fuel taxes, Registry of Motor Vehicles fees, sales taxes on motor vehicles and tolls, Pourbaix said.
The state hiked the gas tax 3 cents in 2013 as part of a package seeking to drive more revenues into transportation.
"When the Legislature and public engaged in the debate for new transportation revenue which was ultimately passed in 2013, promises and commitments were made ensuring there would be geographic and modal equity," Pourbaix wrote. "Given that 90% of daily trips occur over roads and that the Highway Division's capital budget is being cut 27%, those commitments and promises appear on the verge of being broken."
The Massachusetts House in April rejected a proposal for another gas tax increase. But lawmakers meeting in a Constitutional Convention this month advanced a surtax on household income above $1 million, a proposal designed to deliver $1.9 billion a year in new revenue for education and transportation. That constitutional amendment would need a second vote of approval from the 2017-2018 Legislature to appear before voters for a binding vote on the November 2018 ballot.
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