Massachusetts governor files USD 18bn transportation bond bill

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The Massachusetts governor Administration filed a transportation bond bill seeking US$ 18 billion in an additional capital authorization to invest in building and modernizing a transportation system that meets the needs of residents, businesses and cities and towns statewide. The authorization would be used to fund existing programs as well as several new initiatives designed to lessen impacts from roadway congestion and ensure reliable travel throughout the Commonwealth.

Titled 'An Act Authorizing and Accelerating Transportation Investment', the proposal includes a series of initiatives from the administration to combat congestion on the Commonwealth’s roadways including establishing a tax credit to encourage telecommuting and remote working, expanding the use of designated bus lanes and transit signal priority, as well as creating a program designed to reduce bottlenecks on local roadways.

It includes nearly US$ 5.7 billion to continue modernizing the MBTA, US$ 150 million to improve the pavement condition on state roads, US$ 20 million to ensure municipalities have resources needed to continue efforts to build ‘Complete Streets’ infrastructure to encourage the public to travel more on foot and by bicycle and US$ 70 million for the Municipal Small Bridge Program. 

The bill filed makes available an innovative, ongoing source of future support by authorizing up to half of the revenue generated by regional market-based compliance programs in the transportation sector, including the Transportation and Climate Initiative (which is currently under development with other Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states and the District of Columbia), to be used to support public transit capital investments that reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation sector. The implementation of this initiative will lead to additional future revenues for investments in transportation infrastructure beyond those included in the bill.

The bill reauthorizes and expands the special revenue bond Rail Enhancement Program to support US$ 2.7 billion for MBTA investments over the next 10 years beyond those funded in the five-year capital plan. This will help fund planning studies and pilots to support the reinvention of both the bus and commuter rail systems, make rail service improvements throughout the Commonwealth and invest in infrastructure power and resiliency.

It also authorizes US$ 1.25 billion in Grant Anticipation Notes to support an expanded bridge program, the Next Generation Bridge Financing Program, ensuring that a total of approximately US$ 4 billion will be available over the next eight years to invest in bridge preservation and reconstruction. This funding exceeds the size of the recently-completed Accelerated Bridge Program.

With the passage of this bill, MassDOT would be provided with the tools and resources to advance its goals of having 70% of the non-interstate pavement in good or excellent condition. MassDOT would also be empowered to continue moving towards the goal of less than 10% of the bridge deck area of National Highway System bridges in poor condition.

Tackling the twin challenges of vehicular congestion and carbon emissions is at the heart of this bill. In addition to new funding for the MBTA, the bill authorizes US$ 330 million for capital support to the 15 Regional Transit Authorities to invest in fleets and facilities, including bus electrification. A new US$ 50 million Transit Infrastructure Partnership Program will provide grants enabling transit authorities and municipalities to work together to provide bus lanes, transit signal priority and other infrastructure to keep buses moving. Other authorizations support investments in bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure and water transportation and address the need to make transportation infrastructure more resilient in the face of a changing climate.

Provisions of this bill would accelerate the pace of construction projects and improve capital delivery. This would allow investments to be made using methods and procedures that appropriately balance safety, efficiency, and reliability. For example, the bill would enable the MBTA to partner with developers willing to build or improve transit infrastructure to expedite the distribution of public benefits, and use well-established procurement methods such as Job Order contracting for smaller projects. MassDOT and the MBTA would be authorized to follow a streamlined process for entering into public-private partnerships and use Design-Build project delivery for all projects, including those with budgets under US$ 5 million.

In anticipation of a report on congestion currently being completed by MassDOT, legislation also includes two innovative new congestion reduction programs. The bill provides incentives to encourage employers to keep workers off the road during peak congestion times, providing a tax credit for companies that support employees who work from home or remote locations.

A new US$ 50 million Local Bottleneck Reduction Program will fund proven, relatively low-cost investments to address local congestion hotspots. These would include smart signaling, improved traffic signage, new roadway striping, and minor configuration and access changes.

The bill responds to the needs of municipal partners by reauthorizing or creating five funding partnerships to supplement and complement the Chapter 90 program, and reauthorizes the popular Municipal Small Bridge Program and Complete Streets Program. In addition to the transit infrastructure partnerships and local bottleneck reduction programs already mentioned, a third municipal funding initiative would improve the condition of roadways by authorizing US$ 100 million for a municipal pavement partnership program to help cities and towns care for state-numbered routes that are locally-owned.

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