Room 473-B
State House
Boston, MA 02133
Telephone: (617) 722-2230
District Office
585A Main St.
Winchester, MA 01890
Telephone: (617) 721-7285 or (617) 438-7185

A View from the Hill

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 27, 1999
CONTACT: Tom Nolan (617) 722-2240


When Alexis de Toqueville toured the United States in 1831, he was struck by the incredible restlessness of the people. Americans, he observed in Democracy in America, were constantly on the move, hustling and bustling, going from here to there and back again. This was especially true of settlers, who were known for charging into the frontier, risking everything in search of fortune and fame, never once looking back to where they came from. For this reason, de Toqueville noted that the American spirit was animated by a "passion stronger than the love of life." This drive was essential, he said, for the maintenance of a healthy democracy, as it prevented people from reverting to Old World aristocratic thinking. Focusing on the future and the fruits it might bring, people would leave traditional European values behind, forging new beginnings and new identities.

We have come a long way since those times, but our culture still remains inextricably rooted in the passion for movement observed by de Toqueville so long ago. According to a US Department of Transportation survey taken in 1995, there were 213,008,137 vehicles on the roads of America, including cars, trucks, buses, and motorcycles. This is in a country of only 260 million people. In the last 20 years, passenger travel has nearly doubled, with Americans traveling over 1 trillion miles a year. The typical American travels, on the average, 30 miles a day.

Now that the horse and buggy has given way to the automobile, feats of travel never thought possible have become part of modern American life. Even in our own little state, a journey down to Cape Cod, for which Henry David Thoreau used to set aside weeks for travel time, now takes little more than an hour (except, of course, during the summer). A ride into Boston from the Northwest region, once an all-day affair, can now be made in a few hours.

Despite the fact that great distances can be traversed nowadays, we do not have to wander very far to see that our own state exemplifies the dynamism of the American people. Massachusetts roads and highways constantly bustle with activity. Parents rush their children to and from school, and then to sports practices, music lessons, and after-school programs. Commuters charge in and out of Boston and the major suburbs to fetch a day's pay. Newly-licensed teenagers boldly explore the undiscovered highways and byways of the Commonwealth, while out-of-state drivers, easily spotted for their difficulty in comprehending the concepts of "right turn on red" and "yield to rotary traffic," pass through our state each day, traveling alongside grizzled instate veterans.

What makes all of this activity possible is the great infrastructure of Massachusetts that supports the immense volume of daily traffic. Incredible strides have been made in the areas of mass transit, road and bridge construction, and traffic management that take the concept of transportation to a higher level. These infrastructure advances have permitted the people of the Commonwealth to work outside of their home towns, visit friends and family with ease, cross rivers and streams without getting their tires wet, and be part of a network of transportation and communication that links the entire nation. Our roadway infrastructure promotes commerce among the cities and states allowing citizens of every state to share in the delight of cranberry juice from Cape Cod, grape jelly from Concord, and baked beans from Boston.

In light of the many benefits brought by good infrastructure, there is one small, yet significant caveat: roads and bridges cost money. The dilemma we face as public officials is how to raise the necessary funds to pay for the infrastructure that sustains our busy lifestyles. Every year major projects are introduced that demand funding from both the state and the local communities involved. Among some of the larger projects in the 34th Middlesex district are Route 3 in Winchester, and Route 28 in Stoneham and Reading, not to mention the several other streets in need of and currently undergoing repairs. These are but a few of the several construction and maintenance proposals on the "to do" list.

Cognizant that well maintained roads and bridges are integral to the functioning and progress of our state and communities, the legislature has traditionally earmarked significant resources for transportation related projects and improvements. These appropriations, otherwise known as Chapter 90 funding, often come in the form of interest-bearing bonds issued by the state. These bonds generate revenues specifically raised to pay for improvements to roads and bridges throughout the Commonwealth. Cities and towns share in these proceeds to cover costs related to maintenance, repair, construction and equipment purchases.

As is the case with all appropriations-type measures, the Governor has first crack at filing a transportation bond bill authorizing the state to issue a certain amount of bonds to achieve these purposes. In the past several years, the legislature has approved Chapter 90 bond authorizations of up to $150 million to satisfy the rather long list of projects. Unfortunately, when the Administration filed its Transportation Bond bill this year, it took a severe step backwards by cutting Chapter 90 authorizations by $50 million. The Governor attributed this cut to purported "unused" authorizations in previous years.

The Governor's decision to slash the Chapter 90 program at a time when the state is involved in the largest transportation project in the history of this nation has not gone unnoticed and will certainly not go without consequence. In fact, after researching the Governor's claims, both the House and Senate nevertheless approved bills authorizing the issuance of $150 million in transportation bonds. Despite the clarion call for level funding by the legislature, cities, towns and organizations (such as the MMA), the Governor has not budged and vetoed $50 million of those authorizations.

As many towns have indicated, the Governor's veto would cripple their efforts to carry out and complete plans essential for the improvement of transportation within those communities. The Governor's actions could potentially shelve needed repairs in Winchester, Stoneham, Reading and other communities for another year and could have serious effects for those projects currently underway. For the citizens who must endure the consequences, this is simply unacceptable.

The Legislature, obviously disappointed by the Governor's action, has not yet given up the fight. The Senate recently overrode the veto by an astounding majority, and momentum is building in the House to do the same. A House override would be integral in maintaining our commitment to keep the Commonwealth moving steadily forward by improving our roads and bridges. Now is not the time to contemplate downsizing our investment in our roads, particularly while so many communities are experiencing the need to renovate and renew tired streets, fill the many potholes caused by mother nature and repair, or construct sidewalks for the safety of pedestrians. Crater-filled dirt roads may have sufficed in the 19th century for de Toqueville, but as we approach the new millennium, those conditions are something that we should only read about in the history books.

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