Don’t forget about our roads and bridges

Baker’s bond bill good start, but $700m more needed

THE FRONT PAGES and television newscasts have dedicated much focus these last few years to the MBTA’s subway, trolley, and commuter rail lines. And rightly so, as public transportation by rail is vital to our state and its economy. But also vital to our state and our economy are the 72,000 lane miles of roadways and over 5,000 bridges.

Depending on how you measure it, between 80 and 90 percent of daily trips occur over our roads and bridges, in personal cars, on bikes, public buses, shuttles, carpools, and in trucks (big and small). And 70 percent of commodities with an annual value over $250 billion are delivered over our roads and bridges. Traffic congestion along with road and bridge conditions are negatively impacting our quality of life, economic vitality, public safety, and our environment.

Gov. Charlie Baker’s transportation bond bill provides $18 billion. We believe this bill is a good start, but it is not adequate to meet the state’s immediate transportation needs. It will take an additional $700 million per year to do so.

From 2013 to 2017, vehicle miles taveled in the state have increased 9.9 percent overall, with a 14.6 percent increase on secondary roadways which are the local roadways most Massachusetts residents have to traverse to get to doctor appointments, to deliver their children to school and their daily sport and social activities, to go shopping, and commute to work. Consequently, congestion has increased. It occurs at all times of day, and plagues roadways in every corner of the state and those in between.

Bottlenecks, chokepoints, intersections, and interchanges have been identified in recent studies as areas of significant congestion. They have also been identified as areas where quick, inexpensive fixes can have fairly immediate impacts, while the more extensive projects are pursued. The bond bill currently provides $10 million annually for local congestion projects, but we believe the state needs to dedicate an additional $200 million per year to these much needed congestion relief measures, including interchanges, on/off ramps, weaves, merge lanes, intersections, and signals.

The numbers included in the Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s recent federally required Transportation Asset Management Plan, known as TAMP, indicate that, with current funding as requested in the bond bill, the state’s bridge conditions will continue to decline and will not reach the federally required threshold. Massachusetts is one of only six states that do not meet minimum federal bridge condition requirements.

According to the state’s TAMP, the conditions of our bridges are projected to worsen. The state estimates the percent of federally measured bridge decks in poor condition will increase to 13 percent, still exceeding the 10 percent threshold, and federal data show that over each of the last five years the number of bridges in both the fair and poor categories has increased. The goal and investment levels should be set to at least meet the minimum federal standards and, as the state itself notes in the TAMP, “meeting long term condition targets requires an increase of spending to $200 million above current levels.”  We agree it will take that additional money.

Similarly, for pavements, the TAMP shows that pavement conditions are declining and notes that the “funding increase is not predicted to achieve long-term targets.” In order to improve the conditions of certain roadways, the state is cutting the funding for interstate pavements. The consequence of this shifting of funds will be declining interstate conditions. Yet it is a proven engineering fact that it is exponentially more expensive and inconvenient to the public to reconstruct a deteriorated roadway than to administer timely and routine maintenance. Adequate funding should be provided for all roadway categories.  We have requested funding for pavement be increased by $200 million per year.

More than three quarters of lane miles in Massachusetts fall under municipal ownership. While the conditions of our roads and bridges decline, the local Chapter 90 program has consistently been funded at a steady $200 million per year, with occasional supplemental operating funds. Documented annual needs for these local roadways will require an additional $100 million per year.

Meet the Author

John Pourbaix

Executive director, Construction Industries of Massachusetts
Massachusetts has a great opportunity to aggressively address congestion and the conditions of our comprehensive transportation system. But doing so will take more money than what is included in the transportation bond bill. We urge the Baker administration and Legislature to adequately invest in these needed improvements in order to meet the transportation needs of our state.

John Pourbaix is executive director of the Construction Industries of Massachusetts.