State Chapter 90 road funding clears the House; Senate expected to vote soon

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LEE — Chris Pompi knows how he'll prioritize the Chapter 90 money his town is allocated from the state.

Pompi, superintendent of the Lee Department of Public Works, plans to split the funding evenly between bridge and road work. And the town has plenty of needs in both areas.

Pompi has a list of 10 roads that need work.

"There's a pile of them that are falling apart," he said.

The Chapter 90 program, enacted by the state Legislature in 1973, is a reimbursement program for the costs of maintaining, repairing, improving and constructing town and county ways and bridges in Massachusetts, up to certain amounts allocated per town or city, according to the state department of transportation website.

Lee has been allocated about $290,000, just short of its usual allocation of $300,000, Pompi said.

Chapter 90 funding of $200 million statewide was authorized in the House of Representatives on Wednesday. Senate approval is expected in the coming weeks, according to a press release from State Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox.

Every year, the town of Lee's roads face wear and tear from winter plowing, Pompi said. Salt used to treat the roads can also get into the sub-basin of the road and cause potholes.

"Typical spring," he said. "Once the frost comes out, there'll be holes all over the county."

The town of Lee prioritizes road work every year through a road condition assessment done by the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission.

"We take the worst condition one, and that's what we do," Pompi said.

Pompi said he thinks Chapter 90 funding allocations are usually a little on the low side.

"The price of doing a road is not getting any cheaper. The price of blacktop is skyrocketing," he said.

"Cities and towns wish it was more," Pignatelli said. "I personally think it should be more, [but] it's very challenging because of our fiscal situation."

Pignatelli's 4th Berkshire District has been allocated $4.23 million in Chapter 90 funding.

The funding is allocated by a formula that takes into account road miles, population and employment in the town or city in question.

"We win when it comes to road miles, and of course we lose when it comes to population," said state Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru.

The 16 communities Mark represents in Berkshire and Franklin counties have been allocated $4.72 million. This includes all of Pittsfield, although Mark represents just one ward of the city.

The Berkshires face funding challenges not seen in some other parts of the state when it comes to tax revenues, making state funding that much more important for bridge and road work, he said.

"There's so few taxpayers to rely on," he said. "There just isn't enough money to go around."

The goal is to get Chapter 90 funding approved in time for construction season, Mark said.

The Legislature must balance Chapter 90 funding with other needs in the commonwealth, said state Rep. Gailanne Cariddi, D-North Adams, whose 1st Berkshire District has been allocated $1.83 million.

"If you really took a look at the broad picture, you'd see that this money fits into the puzzle of all the funding for the state, because we have limited funding." she said. "If we put more into [Chapter 90], we'd be taking the funding from someone else."

Those other competing needs include Chapter 70 funding for K-12 education and health care costs, said state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield.

"Health care costs represent more than 40 percent of our budget, and that number just keeps increasing," she said. Farley-Bouvier's 3rd Berkshire District has been allocated $1.37 million in Chapter 90 funding. This includes Mark's section of Pittsfield.

Pignatelli referred to balancing budget priorities as walking a tightrope. Revenues from income, property, sales and gas taxes have been fluctuating wildly this fiscal year. Revenues to date for fiscal 2017 stand at about $130 million below projected estimates, he said.

"[Chapter 90 funding] is a lifeline," he said. "It's a recognition that towns have to maintain their infrastructure. I think the Berkshires have fared very well, but we need to do more."

Reach staff writer Patricia LeBoeuf at 413-496-6247 or @BE_pleboeuf.


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