Hampshire County communities get midyear boost for road repairs

The state has sent an additional $100 million in Chapter 90 money for road repairs to communities as part of money raised from the new Fair Share Amendment.

The state has sent an additional $100 million in Chapter 90 money for road repairs to communities as part of money raised from the new Fair Share Amendment. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

By EMILEE KLEINand BELLA LEVAVI

Staff Writers

Published: 01-05-2024 9:11 PM

Like many communities throughout Hampshire County, Amherst routinely faces a double whammy that hinders its ability to fix roads in many of its neighborhoods in a timely fashion — the costs to make such repairs steadily escalate while the money sent to municipalities from the state remains stagnant.

It’s an annual problem that, in most years, limits road projects to more densely trafficked main roads, said Amy Rusiecki, assistant superintendent at the Amherst Department of Public Works.

“There’s not enough money that is put towards roads to help us stay ahead of the maintenance we need. So every single year we fall further and further behind,” Rusiecki said.

This year, however, communities are receiving a much-welcomed midyear allocation of so-called Chapter 90 funds — the pot of money the state sends to communities for road repairs. For Amherst, that will mean an extra $383,386.

“When we get additional funds, that allows us to look at smaller neighborhoods (with) the roads that are less traveled and may not impact as many people but still need repairs as well,” Rusiecki.

The extra $100 million in Chapter 90 money to be divvied up among communities statewide is coming from Fair Share Amendment, commonly called the “millionaire’s tax,” which imposes a new 4% tax on personal income over $1 million.

“When all of us in western Mass. think about the Fair Share Amendment, we talk about fighting for our fair share. This is one of the many ways we have been able to deliver on that,” said state Rep. Natalie Blais, D-Deerfield.

This “millionaire’s tax” fund is allowed to be used only for transportation and schools. Northampton Mayer Gina-Louise Sciarra released a statement expressing her disappointment that this round of Fair Share is limited solely to Chapter 90 projects, and not for Chapter 70 funds that go toward education needs in communities. She said Chapter 70 money has remained stagnant for over 20 years.

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

Jena Schwartz: Things I have not said
As Hadley works on energy storage bylaw, some question why the town has to allow them at all
Residents seek to balance intersection upgrades with preservation of Sunderland character
Don Michak: Dig deeper after scandalous court ruling in Soldiers' Home case
Susan Tracy: Support Ukraine funding
Amherst police chief finalists stress anti-racism cred, discuss other issues in separate meetings with public

“It is disheartening that it is not being directed to K-12 education, which is desperately needed,” Sciarra said.

That said, the $512,989 in extra road repair money awarded to Northampton will supplement a $2 million loan for paving and sidewalk projects.

“We have 160 miles of roadway that need continual maintenance, so additional Chapter 90 funding is always welcome,” the mayor wrote. “There are far more needs than we have funding for annually.”

Belchertown obtained $373,935 in Fair Share funds for infrastructure improvements, nearly half of the money already allocated to the town for this fiscal year. DPW Director Linda Leduc said she doesn’t know which projects will receive the money and that she needs to fully assess the roads to determine how to spend the funds.

The $100 million in Fair Share Amendment revenues for roads are being distributed according to two formulas. The first $50 million is being distributed using the traditional Chapter 90 formula based on local road mileage (58.33%), population (20.83%) and employment (20.83%). The second $50 million is being distributed using a formula based on each municipality’s share of road mileage.

The traditional Chapter 90 formula is known for favoring urban areas over rural communities. State Sen. Jo Comerford and Blais explained they fought for this second formula for the allocation to help rural towns get the funding they need.

Each community receives a different total amount according to how the two formulas apportion the money. For example, Southampton received an additional $113,307 from the road mileage formula and $78,930 from the traditional Chapter 90 formula. Hadley received an additional $108,585 from the road mileage formula and $88,952 from the traditional Chapter 90 formula.

Since each town was awarded extra Chapter 90 money, Rusiecki said the next challenge is to get Amherst’s bid in for roadwork as soon as possible. Limited contractors in the area combined with the amount of new road projects facilitates a tougher market.

“In order for Amherst to see the impact sooner rather than later, we’re going to have to put our bid out earlier. It kinda puts us in a race against other towns potentially,” Rusiecki said.