ROADS AND BRIDGES in Massachusetts are crumbling. The result of decades of deferred maintenance and failing infrastructure has led to traffic and safety concerns, and significant increases in costs by requiring emergency repairs to roads and bridges, such as expending $75 million in Allston on immediate temporary safety repairs to an elevated section of the Massachusetts Turnpike.
A recent national bridge report found that Massachusetts is fourth worst in the nation when it comes to the structural integrity of bridges, with 4,843 of our bridges needing repairs worth a collective $15.4 billion. These nearly 5,000 bridges are the same ones we take for granted everyday as we travel over dozens of them at high speed on Routes 128 and 495. Underfunding infrastructure compromises safety, hurts the economy, and damages the environment through the higher emissions caused by some of the worst traffic in the country.
But Massachusetts’ road and bridge builders stand ready to get our roads and bridges off the “worst in the nation” lists. Thanks to the federal ARPA funds allocated to the Commonwealth, there is now a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fund these vital projects that are essential for public safety. Because of these resources, Massachusetts finally can afford to act now to make long overdue investments to our transportation infrastructure and undertake projects that the state has wanted to do for quite some time but always lacked the money to fund. And let’s face it, the negative impact of underfunding over the last 40 years will never be reversed if we don’t act now by taking full advantage of the ARPA windfall.
It’s up to our lawmakers and the governor to decide how to use that money. Certainly, there are many worthy recipients, but if we don’t utilize a significant portion of it for our highways, interchanges, and bridges, we will be doing a disservice to the people of Massachusetts who rely on our transportation infrastructure every day.
Many states have already committed ARPA funds to transportation infrastructure purposes, including Florida’s aggressive allocation of $2 billion. Colorado, Kentucky, Louisiana, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, and Oregon are just some of the other states that are dedicating some of their ARPA dollars to roads, bridges, and infrastructure.
A recent PEW Charitable Trust presentation to the Legislature noted that prioritizing one-time uses for infrastructure projects is a fiscally responsible, high value use of funds, and tackling deferred maintenance “can be good for budgets and the economy.”
Making infrastructure investments today is critical for driver safety, the economy, tourism, the environment, and enhancing our state’s efforts to recover from the pandemic.
We urge the House, Senate, and governor to join many other states in using ARPA funds for repairs of roads and bridges, and take a bold step to finally reverse decades of underinvestment in some of the state’s most vital capital assets.
John Pourbaix is the executive director of Construction Industries of Massachusetts.