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Mass. Towns Get Road, Bridge Repair Boost

Tue May 04, 2010 - Northeast Edition

BOSTON (AP) Amid the gloom and doom of a bad economy, Massachusetts cities and towns got good news April 2 when the Patrick administration announced a $5 million increase in road and bridge repair money prized by communities.

Spending from so-called Chapter 90 funding will increase to $155 million statewide in the fiscal year beginning July 1.

Boston, the state’s biggest city, will get a total of $11.1 million, or $366,000 more this year, while across the state, the town of North Adams will get $359,000, or $11,500 more this year.

Springfield, the third-largest city in Massachusetts, will get $2.8 million, an $84,000 hike.

The increases may appear small, but in an era of level-funded budgets or reductions, community leaders said it’s a welcome change.

“In the days of facing constant cutbacks, it’s always good to get a bump,” said Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. “This allows us to address roadway infrastructure issues that, if not here, we’d have to look to address with the general fund budget — and that’s hard to do with all the cutbacks we face.”

A Worcester official said the spending also has an important psychological effect on residents.

“When they see the trucks rolling in and the pavers rolling in, they get some sort of satisfaction their tax dollars are paying for something,” said Public Works Commissioner Bob Moylan.

Worcester will get a $91,000 increase, to $3.16 million.

The money comes from the final year of a three-year bond approved by the Legislature in 2008, although Chapter 90 bonds are repeatedly reissued by the House and Senate.

It is prized by cities and towns because they have almost total discretion over how it is used, unlike other state or federal highway dollars. Most use it for road, bridge and sidewalk repairs, but some use it for capital projects like sheds to store road salt. Others set it aside for several years to pay for big-ticket projects.

The spending also comes in unison with a $3 billion, seven-year accelerated bridge repair program launched by the governor, and with projects funded by the state’s share of the $787 billion federal stimulus program signed into law last year by President Barack Obama.

“When combined with our unprecedented Accelerated Bridge Program and federal stimulus projects, we are putting thousands of people to work and jumpstarting our economy as we rebuild our transportation infrastructure,” Gov. Deval Patrick said in a statement.

Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray, who, like Patrick, is seeking re-election this fall, said: “We are addressing deferred maintenance by responsibly applying funds to invest in our roads and bridges in cities and towns across the commonwealth.”

Moylan said Worcester is like many cities and towns, in that it relies on Chapter 90 funding almost exclusively to make street and sidewalk repairs.

The city, the second-largest in the state, has 410 mi. of public streets and 500 mi. of sidewalk. It also has a backlog of work estimated at $130 million, just shy of the $155 million the Patrick administration issued statewide this year under the Chapter 90 program.

The funding, Moylan said, “is terribly important in today’s economy and with tight budgets.”

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