Roads across Gloucester and Cape Ann are deteriorating, and if we are going to make them safer, put people to work and in the end save millions of dollars for taxpayers, the Legislature needs to pass long-overdue highway funds.
Fortunately, Gov. Patrick has recognized the need for these repairs and has included $300 million in his transportation bond bill. However, debate over that bill could last for months and the time for road repair contracts is now, particularly following this harsh winter.
Approval of funds for local road construction and resurfacing – state Chapter 90 money that comes from a share of the gas tax – was delayed for months last year. This red tape cost cities and towns on Cape Ann and across the Commonwealth nearly 75 percent of the paving season, preventing the start of many necessary road repair projects.
Every construction season delayed or missed puts us years behind in road work. The paving season in our state is brief, running only from May to September, and by getting Chapter 90 money later and later, we are forced to do the work in bad weather – and work done in the cold simply does not last as long.
That’s why it’s so critical that the $300 million needed to pave local roads is passed and funded by the end of April this year.
If this occurs, communities on Cape Ann stand to receive more than $1.7 million in total funding. For instance, under this $300 million plan now being considered at the State House, Gloucester would receive $1,010,917 for repaving and repairs; Rockport $290,199; $223,241 for Manchester, and $200,724 for Essex.
We cannot afford to have our potholed, fractured roads go another year without work. If even one other season passes up by, the costs could soar from a simple leveling and top course to more much expensive replacements.
In the long run, not fixing these roads will cost all of us dearly: every $1 spent on paving and repairs saves $6 to $10 in road replacements, according to the Massachusetts Highway Association. And passage of the $300 million Chapter 90 bill, while extremely expensive, is also the single best way to protect nearly all our municipal roads, potentially saving us billions in tax dollars over the long term. Chapter 90 funds take care of 30,000 miles of rural, suburban and urban streets – 90 percent of the roads in Massachusetts.
If the state funds that we all pay for through the gas tax don’t materialize in time for paving contracts to go out, it falls on the shoulders of local taxpayers to fix roads that won’t be safely passable with repairs.
Chapter 90 aid, even when funded on time, has not managed to keep pace with the needs of roads and the soaring costs of asphalt and steel, according to a Massachusetts Municipal Association report released last year. That report showed the actual need for road repairs annually in our state is $562 million – leaving a shortfall annually that must be picked up by local taxpayers when it should be covered by our gas tax payments.
And let’s not forget that Chapter 90 funds not only repair our roads, save us wear and tear on automobiles and prevent expensive repairs, but they also save money for communities’ snow and ice budgets. They provide local jobs with contracting companies that are hired locally.
We understand the need and Massachusetts should be a leader nationwide when it comes to road maintenance and funding. A community’s largest asset is its roads.
Bottom line: it costs less to maintain existing roads rather than building new ones—an important fact to note when discussing funding.
Michael Hale is the director of public works for the City of Gloucester