A View from the Hill
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 27, 1999
CONTACT: Tom Nolan (617) 722-2240
GOVERNOR'S FUNDING POTHOLE IN TRANSPORTATION
BOND BILL NEEDS FILLING
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
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
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