HUNTINGTON, Mass. (The Westfield News) – The state Chapter 90 Program has come under fire from highway departments all over western Massachusetts who say that their needs aren’t being met on Beacon Hill.
Lacking the public transit options available to residents of greater Boston, municipalities in Berkshire, Franklin, and the western ends of Hampden and Hampshire counties are completely reliant on state and town roadways, and believe that the funds issued by Boston to maintain these roads are insufficient.
“We’re trying to get the public involved because of how limited we are in our funding,” said Charles “Chip” Dazelle, highway superintendent for the Town of Huntington. “We fought for $100 million (in extra statewide funding) last year and just got $200 million, which was level funding from the year before. We have 25 miles of blacktop and 12 miles of dirt to maintain, and if blacktop costs $69 a ton, it would cost about $162,000 to redo a mile of road.” One look at Dazelle’s allowance from the state through Chapter 90, $166,287 for the fiscal year 2014, paints a picture of what exactly the heads of local DPWs are referring to when they speak of the Commonwealth’s crumbling roadways.
“The state’s infrastructure is so bad, and they (Beacon Hill) want to invest all the money in trains,” Dazelle continued. “Granted we don’t have the traffic like they do, but these potholes… you get front end damage on your car, that could run between $200 to $1,000.”
Dazelle is calling for public support in attempting to persuade outgoing Governor Deval L. Patrick to place more emphasis on repairing the Bay State’s roads.“The Governor has the golden hammer, and we just can’t get him to strike it,” he said. “Just putting a band-aid on the roads isn’t going to fix it. They need to be done ever 12 years. I’ve always said that if you put lipstick on a pig, it’s still a pig.”
Dazelle, a member of the Tri-County Highway Superintendents and Berkshire Highway Superintendents Associations, said the membership of these organizations are “fighting on a daily bases to get our monies raised and a multi-year Chapter 90 bill that will allow us to do more and have a schedule.” “If we just black-topped our roads with no repairs before we did, i.e. drainage, milling, reclaiming, shimming, and just put 2 inches of top on, we could do 1 ½ miles of road and 15 years to do them all, and $2.6 million that probably would not last 10 years from deterioration,” he said in a statement. “That price (of blacktop) depends on the going oil prices that day. This is called an escalation or de-escalation adjustment. Prices have gone up on everything — except our Chapter 90 money.”
Dazelle added that, while he and his fellow rural highway superintendents have heard the cries of residents regarding the conditions of their roads, it is up to them to be the squeaky wheels that receive the grease from Boston.“As we hear all of you about our conditions of local roads, our hands are tied with not receiving additional money from our Governor. As taxpayers, something has to stop at the local level as we can not afford any higher town taxes,” Dazelle said in the statement. “When we go to bid for our services and supplies, we don’t know until July or August when our monies come in how much we actually receive. So we plan on doing jobs then we have to sometimes change. I am asking for everyone to write our Governor and legislators with pictures and letters. Let them hear all of you.” “We were supposed to get our apportionment letters April 1. Well, I’m talking to you on April 2 and we still don’t have them,” said Chris Bouchard, highway superintendent for the Town of Becket. “That’s a state law. It’s a shell game. It’s smoke and mirrors. We need to know (what we’re getting).”Bouchard added that the $200 million the cities and towns received last year from the state not only got to them too late, but wasn’t nearly adequate.“
$300 million is required because we’re just falling further and further behind,” he said. “Last year, he (Patrick) underfunded then added $50 million later to level fund, but we in western Mass. have a very small window for construction. And it’s a long process, of advertising projects, then awarding the bids.”
He also said that, due to the economic climate of the region, numerous asphalt plants have had to close, meaning more travel is required of municipalities just to get the materials to patch their potholes and fix their frost-heaved roads.
“MassHighway takes care of 12 percent of the state’s roads, about 3,000 miles worth of roads,” Bouchard said. “Cities and towns have to take care of 88 percent, about 28,000 miles. The current transportation bond bill is stuck in committee, and it blows my mind that the state wants to expand rail when we need $600 million.”
“Roads are the one thing that affect everyone who lives in Massachusetts, whether you live in Boston or Becket,” he said. “Construction is a huge industry, and it has a pyramid affect. Your food and goods get to you by road. Your emergency services get to you by road.”
“Our legislators in the House and Senate unanimously supported $300 million,” he said. “We wouldn’t have this pothole season had we fixed these roads last year. Now, the cost of asphalt has gone up and up due to inflation, and we’re not keeping pace.”
A spokesman for MassDOT said Wednesday that a transportation bond bill to address the state’s transportation system is nearly ready to go.“From a procedural standpoint, it sounds like it’s close. Everyone’s rooting for it,” he said. “It has passed both the Senate and House, and it’s currently in conference committee.”
Media Credit: The Westfield News