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Mass. Secretary of Transportation Discusses Bond Bill in Berkshires

Massachusetts’ Secretary of Transportation visited the Berkshires on Thursday to pitch the governor’s transportation budget, and to discuss the newly filed transportation bond bill with local legislators and heads of town governments.

Massachusetts Transportation Secretary Richard Davey spoke to town officials and members of the Berkshire delegation in support of Governor Deval Patrick’s transportation plan, which has been nicknamed “The Way Forward.” A bond bill released Wednesday would authorize $19 billion in transportation investments over the next 10 years, and would seek to address many projects and maintenance that has previously been backlogged, including road and bridge repair, and other priorities set forth by the Fiscal Year 2013-2017 Capital Investment Plan.

“The bond bill tracks directly to The Way Forward plan, the Capital 2013-2017 Investment Plan. It provides more Chapter 90 aid to more cities and towns,” said Davey, “there’s a lot in there for Western Massachusetts.”

In addition to extending passenger rail service from Pittsfield to New York City, Governor Patrick’s transportation vision also would bring commuter rail from Boston and Worcester out to Springfield.

In the bond bill, $3.4 billion would be allocated to provide $300 million annually to cities and towns for local bridge and road repair, a 50 percent increase over last year.

Bob Nason, town administrator of the Berkshire town of Lee, home of 14.5 aging bridges, would like to see the Chapter 90 money expedited so communities can receive that money before the construction season passes.

Democratic 4th Berkshire District State Representative William “Smitty” Pignatelli said he’d like to see the House take the Chapter 90 funding out of the bond bill, and see it voted on separately.

A detailed map of numerous potential public works projects that could see completion pending the legislature’s passage of the bond bill was displayed at the discussion with the secretary. North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright was delighted to see the variety of projects in his city that could be addressed with the investment.

But to pay for all these investments, the governor’s budget proposal hinges on a one-percentage point increase in the state income tax. Some lawmakers, like 3rd Berkshire District democrat Tricia Farley-Bouvier, think the income tax is the best way to provide the funding for projects across the state.

But 1st Berkshire District democrat Gail Cariddi, also a member of the joint committee on transportation, would like to see legislators take a different approach in funding the investments.

Cariddi suggested that small increases could be made to the state gas tax, as well as registration fees. She also suggested a reinstatement of toll charges along MassPike exits 1-6, which is estimated to generate approximately $12 million annually.

Republican lawmakers have been vocally opposed to large tax increases to pay for the investments in Governor Patrick’s budget. Several different organizations have proposed a variety of ways for paying for the investments through tax adjustments.

The bond bill also includes $604 million to modernize and support Regional Transit Authorities, and $4.6 billion to fully fund highway maintenance and construction including the Springfield 1-91 viaduct.

Secretary Davey said the investments highlighted in the bond bill are necessary, and are a pay-now-or-pay-later scenario.

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Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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