Boston- State Senator Benjamin B. Downing (D-Pittsfield) announces that the Senate on Thursday approved legislation authorizing $150 million in local transportation aid and $2.4 billion in federal funds for road-and-bridge projects while also installing unprecedented cost-containment reforms to help close the $15-billion to $19-billion transportation funding gap.
“These sweeping reforms will improve our transportation system across the Commonwealth and ensure that taxpayers dollars are being spent effectively to enhance road safety and fund maintenance projects,” said Downing.
The Senate announced last week that it would include the reform initiatives in the transportation bond bill, approved by the House of Representatives on Wednesday. The Senate reforms address the use of police details and MBTA pensions and health benefits. They also establish a wide array of transparency measures to improve project management and construction processes.
“These reforms are crucial first-steps in handling our transportation funding gap and changing how our transportation agencies do business,” Senate President Therese Murray (D-Plymouth) said. “I am proud of the Senate for leading the way.”
President Murray added that the bill should receive quick passage because of highly-anticipated Chapter 90 aid and federal funding that will allow spring and summer construction projects to go forward across the Commonwealth.
Of the reforms included in the bill, the most highly-publicized would require the Executive Office of Transportation and the Executive Office of Public Safety to establish guidelines for the staffing of construction details. The reform would provide a more uniform standard for municipalities when they make choices about using road details, and would also require reporting provisions relative to costs.
The legislation would also restructure MBTA retiree health insurance to match the state retiree health insurance contribution rate for all employees under the age of 65 retiring after 12/31/08. Because the MBTA is currently involved in arbitration, this measure would take effect after the collective bargaining agreement at the MBTA expires.
The bond bill also includes a provision requiring the MBTA to conduct a cost-impact analysis of their pension system and what would be saved by setting a retirement age of 55. The study would establish an actual cost-savings estimate from which to gauge future reform. The MBTA currently allows a 23-years-of-service-and-out retirement agreement, which is out of line with the state formula.
The legislation includes two other major reforms: One would require the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority to provide the Legislature with detailed information about moving the state to an automated toll collection system to promote cost savings. These systems help reduce congestion and improve efficiency.
The second addresses the concern of bridge safety by requiring the Administration to make recommendations for the financing of repairs for structurally deficient bridges owned by the Commonwealth or any of its quasi-public agencies.
Other reforms in the bill include:
- Adopting new project performance measurement standards, such as Washington State’s “Gray Notebook” to improve management, transparency and accountability.
- Requiring MassHighway to report payments, processing times and other cash flow activities, and to also report on best practices used by other states.
- Establishing uniform prequalification requirements across state agencies for contractors.
- Requiring MassHighway to build in long-term maintenance costs for proposed projects, and establishing a transportation deferred maintenance fund to support maintenance costs going forward.
The bill will now go back to the House of Representatives for further action.