MPHA in the News: House Panel Adds $300 Mil for Local Roads to Transportation Bond Bill (State House News Service)

State House News Service

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

By Matt Murphy

House Panel Adds $300 Mil for Local Roads to Transportation Bond Bill

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, JAN. 8, 2013….The House Bonding Committee on Tuesday signed off on two major long-term borrowing bills to finance transportation and general government spending, including a $12.4 billion, five-year transportation bond bill that was loaded up with $300 million for local road repairs next fiscal year.

The committee, chaired by New Bedford Rep. Antonio Cabral, unanimously recommended the transportation bond bill on Tuesday, while the two House Republicans on the committee – Reps. Nichola Boldyga and Todd Smola – reserved their rights on a separate $1.2 billion general government bond bill (H 3690).

The committee made several changes to the transportation bond bill (H 3673) before sending it along to the House Ways and Means Committee, including the addition of a one-time $300 million Chapter 90 authorization for fiscal 2015. The committee also stripped language from the bill that would have given the Patrick administration and the next governor the authority to move money within the bill around to facilitate authorized projects.

According to Cabral, the sentence removed from both bond bills would have “created the ability for things to be moved around the way they wish and choose without any prerogative from the Legislature.”

The committee also increased the authorized borrowing capacity in both bills to align with proposed expenditures. Cabral said he thought it was important that the spending match the borrowing authorization, regardless of any assumptions that the federal government will fund portions of some projects through grants to the state.

A $429 million line item for bike and walking paths was reduced by the committee to $377 million, and a separate $50 million line item was created within the transportation bill to fund the “Active Streets” program, which is designed for urban areas to turn roadways that carry car traffic into multi-purpose car, bike and walking roads.

The Massachusetts Public Health Association applauded the inclusion of “Active Streets” funding, but said it was disappointed to see the funding for off-road, multi-use paths reduced. “Complete streets are good for quality of life, good for economic development, and good for public health,” said Rebekah Gewirtz, executive director of the Massachusetts Public Health Association. “Complete streets in local roadway work is already high on the priority list for many communities across the state.  But we know that municipalities need support to carry out these goals.”

The Patrick administration has stated its desire to have new Orange and Red Line T cars, whose purchase is authorized in the bill, assembled in Massachusetts. Cabral said the committee added language to the bill requiring that with a state preference the work be located in communities with higher-than-average unemployment rates.

The transportation bill also includes a $25 million earmark for the study and engineering of any transportation improvements that may be needed in South Boston’s waterfront Innovation District.

In the general government bond bill, House lawmakers added $25 million for the Cultural Facilities Fund to bring its total funding to $75 million, and called for the Executive Office of Public Safety to deploy idle reduction technology in at least 100 police patrol cars to examine the potential for reducing fuel consumption.

The bill also adds $14 million to the 2008 higher education bond bill for the Massachusetts Bay Community College in Framingham.

Cabral said he was hopeful the bond bills would come before the House for a vote within the next few weeks.

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