EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

April 3, 2013

Column: Local road repair depends on swift legislative action

Bruce D. Thibodeau and Chris Cronin
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — Drive through Andover or North Andover or any surrounding community and it’s clear this winter has taken a toll on area roads. Cracked streets, potholes and other issues are common. Simply put, our municipal roads are in need of repairs, and quickly.

Fortunately, Gov. Deval Patrick has allocated $300 million to help fund these repairs – that translates into more than $3.2 million for Andover and North Andover – as part of his transportation bond bill. Unfortunately, this bill could be debated well into the summer, potentially delaying the start of much work for months.

To begin these projects, make our roads safer and in the process create quality jobs and save local city and town taxpayers millions of dollars, we must pass long-overdue Chapter 90 highway funds now.

Chapter 90 funding is normally allocated by April 1 each year to give cities and towns adequate time to plan the road projects for the season and sign the necessary contracts to begin work on time. Due to New England weather, the road paving and work season in Massachusetts is brief – running from May through September each year.

Last year, state Chapter 90 funds – money that comes from a portion of the gas tax and is used for municipal road construction and resurfacing – was delayed for months, costing us nearly 75 percent of the paving and construction season. As a result, many road projects in Andover and North Andover were delayed, while others couldn’t begin at all.

When Chapter 90 funding is delayed, we are forced to do work in cold, bad weather – and work done when temperatures fall too low does not last as long as work done in better conditions. These delays not only put us behind on road projects, but they also cost significantly more money. What often starts out as a simple repaving or resurfacing project will turn into a much more costly replacement if put off – that’s because every dollar spent on paving and repairs saves $6 to $10 in road replacements.

Cities and towns across Massachusetts are responsible for nearly 90 percent of the commonwealth’s roads – that’s more than 30,000 miles of rural, urban and suburban streets. Chapter 90 aid is the primary source of money to fund this critical work. Even when funded on time, Chapter 90 aid has not been able to keep up with the actual needs of our roads and the soaring costs of asphalt and steel. According to a Massachusetts Municipal Association report released last year, the actual annual need in the commonwealth is $562 million. Any shortfall must be picked up by local taxpayers or road work will be left undone. Andover, for example, relies on Chapter 90 funding for 100 percent of its local road-paving work.

That’s why we need to pass Chapter 90 funds now. Not only does Andover stand to receive more than $2 million and North Andover more than $1.2 million, but other local communities will benefit as well. For example, under the $300 million proposed by Gov. Patrick, Lawrence would receive almost $2 million and Haverhill, $2.25 million. Methuen would get $1.8 million.

Passing Chapter 90 funds is the single best way to protect and enhance nearly all of our local roads, save billions in more expensive repairs that will result if work is put off, prevent wear and tear on our automobiles, and provide quality jobs with local contracting companies that hire locally.

In the long run, not fixing our roads in a timely manner will cost us all a lot more. We cannot afford to have our roads go another year without work; nor should local taxpayers shoulder bear all the burden for projects that should be paid for by the gas tax.

Our roads are a huge part of our local economy. Let’s act now and take care of this vital community asset.

Bruce D. Thibodeau is director of public works for the town of North Andover. Chris Cronin is acting director of public works for the town of Andover.