New Hartford Road in Sandisfield was verging on "mud pit" status, local officials told townspeople at the annual town meeting this spring, imploring them to approve a loan to help fund repairs.
Little did they know it would be delays at the Statehouse, not thrifty residents, that would stall the project.
Typically rubber-stamped in the spring, state aid to Massachusetts cities and towns for road repair and reconstruction -- known as Chapter 90 -- has yet to be approved by leaders in Boston. The delay is preventing many municipalities from putting their road projects out to bid as the construction season begins to wane.
About $8 million in road aid is slated to go to the 32 cities and towns in Berkshire County. But as the delay wears on, some local officials say they’ll likely have to scale back on construction or wait until the weather warms again in 2013.
"The opportunity for getting projects done is such a small window in Berkshire County, to have this money delayed is ridiculous," said Sandisfield Selectman Patrick Barrett, who is waiting on about $330,000 in Chapter 90 funds for his town. "It’s an outrage, an absolute outrage."
Letters announcing the proposed fiscal 2013 aid amounts went out from the governor’s office on April 1, but differences between the House and Senate versions of the Chapter 90 bill ultimately stopped up its passage, according to state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli,
Pignatelli, a former Lenox selectman, said he shared municipalities’ frustration, and was pushing for the Legislature to approve the funds by the end of this week.
"The process has been seriously flawed, and it’s not how we should be treating our cities and towns," Pignatelli said. "Here we are at the end of July, we’re shrinking that time, and in the mean time the roads are falling apart."
This is the second year in a row Chapter 90 funds have been delayed. Last year, the bill languished on the governor’s desk, Pignatelli said.
In Peru, officials are waiting to receive about $147,000 in the state aid, $75,000 of which would be used to reconstruct Lafayette Drive, a residential street that overlooks Lake Ashmere. But because of the setback, that project will likely be shelved until next year, according to Peru Selectman Edward Richards.
"They approve it so late that the towns don’t have a fair chance to get anything done during the construction season," Richards said. "It’s a real burden, not just for Peru. It’s a burden for every town."
Great Barrington Depart ment of Public Works Superintendent Joe Sokul said the hold-up at the Statehouse has kept him from contracting out a consultant for repairs to Lake Mansfield Road, which runs by the lake. Yearly crack-sealing and guardrail work around town has also been put off.
"It does delay us when we can’t even put it out to bid," Sokul said, "because we can’t award the contract because we’re depending on those moneys."
The wait has been a non-issue for at least one municipality. In Pittsfield, Department of Public Works Commissioner Bruce Collingwood said he’s stopped counting on the funds in the year they’re doled out.
"I learned my lesson years ago," Collingwood said. "I’ve lived through this before, and the way I manage Chapter 90 is I do not depend on this year’s money to do this year’s work. I let the money from the previous year roll to the next year, so I don’t ever get into this issue."
By the numbers
Chapter 90 is local transportation aid funding in Massachusetts allotted to every city and town.
Fiscal 2013 total: $200 million
Berkshire County: $8 million
The three highest allotments of Chapter 90 funding in the county:
Pittsfield: $1.4 million
North Adams: $452,000
Great Barrington: $422,000
The three lowest:
Mount Washington: $71,000
New Ashford: $44,000
Source: Massachusetts Department of Transportation