Small-town officials agree: 'Put a higher priority on Chapter 90 funding'

LENOX — Mount Washington could use a boost in state highway aid to maintain its 17 miles of roads.

Nestled in the southeast corner of the Berkshires, one of the commonwealth's smallest municipalities received $71,000 last year in such aid, known as Chapter 90 funding.

Since the annual allotment has been stagnant for years, town taxpayers in fiscal 2016 kicked in another $100,000; still barely enough to do part of a road, according to Selectman Jim Lovejoy.

"We usually have to save up our money for a couple of years just to afford a project," he said. "[The state] needs to put a higher priority on Chapter 90 money."

Lovejoy's sentiments were the crux of comments during a 30-minute review and question-and-answer session this week regarding the Massachusetts Department of Transportation's five-year, $17.4 million capital investment plan.

MassDOT representatives gathered at their District 1 headquarters briefly outlined the strategy for mostly upgrading or improving the reliability of existing roads, bridges and public transportation through fiscal 2022. About 13 percent of the funding would be dedicated to physical expansion of the transportation system.

What local officials and regional planners want expanded most is Chapter 90 money, stuck at the $200 million level for several years dating back early in Gov. Deval Patrick's eight years in office.

The five-year plan remains locked into the $200 million figure, when the 351 cities and towns could really use $600 million annually just to keep up with basic road upkeep, local officials said.

"The amount of municipal roads to maintain is in woeful shape compared to non-interstate highways," noted Nathaniel Karns, executive director of the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission.

In a recent Eagle interview, Karns noted how as a state and nation, "We are critically underfunding all of our infrastructure."

While increasing Chapter 90 money requires legislative approval, local officials would like Gov. Charlie Baker and his administration to start advocating for a high number in the five-year plan.

MassDOT annually updates its capital investment plan, generally spending two weeks seeking public comment before seeking final approval from the agency's board of directors.

In this year's update, the state is allocating $25 million for improvements at airport administration buildings, up from $13.8 million, due to the "poor state of legacy buildings." Typically, that funding is augmented heavily by the Federal Aviation Administration.

The state also added $68 million to pave roads that are not interstate highways, removing $57.5 million from the interstate highway allocation to speed repairs on local and secondary roads.

One change related to interstate highways pushed up spending in this fiscal year: work to shift to all-electronic tolling on the Mass Turnpike.

Reach staff writer Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233.


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