Roads and bridges throughout Massachusetts received a boost yesterday as Gov. Deval Patrick filed a $2.9 billion transportation bond bill that would support capital projects over the next three years.Additional funds from the federal government would bring the total investment to $4.8 billion and support surface transportation and mass transit initiatives throughout the state. Officials say the funds are needed to help improve roads, bridges, and tunnels. A report released in late March by the Massachusetts Transportation Finance Commission estimated the cost of bringing the state’s transportation infrastructure to a state of good repair at $15 billion to $20 billion over the next 20 years.“The commonwealth needs a transportation system that improves our quality of life and serves as a catalyst for economic growth,” Patrick said in a press release. “Inadequate investment in our roads, bridges, and public transit system over time has compromised those goals. This legislation will allow us to address many of our most pressing transportation needs while we work towards long-term transportation reform.”The proposed borrowing package is a sizable investment in the state’s various transportation systems, according to Jay Newsome, House director for the Joint Committee on Bonding, Capital Expenditures, and State Assets.“We’ve had some others that ran in the billions, but not $4.8 billion,” Newsome said.The measure calls for $1.3 billion of borrowing to fund improvements on state-owned roads and bridges, as the TFC report pegged conditions on more than a quarter of state roads as “poor” or “fair.” The state plans to leverage federal funds to help bring the total investment on state-owned roads and bridges to $3.2 billion, according to the press release.Another $500 million would go towards roads and bridges that municipal and local governments oversee, along with $50 million for public works grants to support economic development. Infrastructure upgrades and affordable housing associated with transit-oriented developments would receive $20 million of funding.Mass transit would also benefit from the bond bill, with $700 million going towards commuter rail and mass transit upgrades, including the Green Line extension to Somerville and Medford. While transportation infrastructure will benefit from the borrowing, Michael Widmer, a member of the TFC and president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, said an increase in bonding alone would not solve the nearly $20 billion funding shortfall. He calculated that the state would borrow $500 million more for transportation projects in its fiscal 2008-2012 capital plan compared to previous years. That $500 million increase in funding is just a portion of the nearly $20 billion shortfall.“And that’s why the TFC recommended an additional revenue source, particularly an increase in the gas tax, because you can’t borrow your way out of the problem,” Widmer said. “So, therefore you have to find a new revenue source if we want to make progress on the backlog.”In its second report, released in September, the TFC suggested, along with other financial reforms, an 11-cent increase to the gas tax, bringing the tax to 35 cents per gallon. It would be the first gas tax increase in Massachusetts since 1991 and would generate $10.5 billion of additional revenue over the next 20 years, according to the report.Along with additional revenue streams, the Patrick administration and UBS Securities LLC, the state’s adviser for transportation finance, are evaluating how the commonwealth could merge the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority with the Massachusetts Highway System, called MassTrans, and restructure existing debt to help generate savings. Officials have yet to announce when they plan to release their “transportation reform package.”MassPike’s new executive director, Alan LeBovidge, will assist in bringing the entities together as well as develop reforms within the authority to bring about cost cuts. State Secretary of Transportation Bernard Cohen, who is also MassPike’s chairman, appointed LeBovidge earlier this week after the new executive director interviewed with board members.
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