GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

February 21, 2013

City eyes state's $3B for roads

By Marjorie Nesin
Staff Writer

---- — Gloucester’s public works officials are crossing their fingers in hopes of seeing legislation pass that would allow directors around the state to finally develop a reliable, long-term plan for funding local road and street projects.

The $3 billion bond bill that Gov. Deval Patrick and Transportation Secretary Richard Davey are looking to file would create a statewide budget of $300 million per year for appropriation to cities and towns, $100 million more per year than the state has appropriated for road work in towns and cities in the past two years.

Gloucester Public Works Director Mike Hale said Wednesday that a major difference he and other public works directors around the state would see is that money would flow from the state earlier in the construction season, which typically runs from late April or early May through the end of October. That forward funding, coupled with an appropriation rate that would hold mostly steady for about ten years, would allow Hale to develop a long-term plan for repairing Gloucester’s public roadways.

“I don’t need to wait for the funding cycle to happen every year to see if it’s there or not there. It’s going to be more or less constant,” Hale said.

@text1:“Right now, we are going to make a decision — all of us — about what kind of Commonwealth we want and whether we’re going to invest in it, whether we’re going to sacrifice for it,” Gov. Patrick said of his plans for transportation investment.

Typically, Gloucester receives notice of the amount of funding the city can expect for its roadways by the start of April, but the actual money tends to roll in months later, according to Hale.

“Last year, we got the anticipated funds April 1, but didn’t get the actual funds until July,” Hale said. “Then it’s very late. Basically, half the construction season’s over.”

Gloucester has pulled in a $700,000 chunk of state money for road repair each year in recent years, according to Hale. Last year, the $700,000 paid for repaving “just a few miles of roadway,” according to Hale, and can amount to even fewer miles if sidewalks require repairs.

But at that rate, it would take the city about 40 years to replace its 80 miles of public roadways. Frequently-used roads carry a life expectancy of only about 10 to 12 years, lesser-used ways can last only about 20 years, and roadway penetrations for utility repairs cut that expectancy even shorter.

Sections of Thatcher Road, Eastern Avenue, Washington Street and Plum Cove were all repaved last year.

As the city expands its master list of public roads from about 50 percent of city roads to more than half in coming years, officials need a higher pay out from the state, according to Hale. If Patrick’s legislation passes, the increased rate of state funding, from $200 million per year to $300 million per year would likely buy Gloucester officials a larger piece of that pie.

“If they’re going to increase it by $100 million, there would be an anticipation that the city would receive additional funding, what the number is, I don’t know yet,” Hale said.

The governor and transportation secretary have been urged to file the legislation by March 1, and Davey has said the duo plans to do so, with the support of mayors and public works directors around the state pulling for the change.

“You could know that, the next year, my street is on the list,” Hale said. “You’d get that level of satisfaction that the state resources that are appropriated to the local government, you’d know where they’re going.”

Some material from the State House News Service is included in this story.

Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at mnesin@gloucestertimes.com.