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Report Public Infrastructure in Western Massachusetts: A Critical Need for Regional Investment and Revitalization

This municipal impact study shows Western Massachusetts communities have been left without the tools necessary to maintain or develop public infrastructure for roadways, buildings and broadband as a result of a declining population, geographic challenges, and a lack of overall resources. It recommends increasing funding for the Chapter 90 program, creating a public infrastructure agency, and continued investment in expanding access to broadband internet.

Organization: Office of the State Auditor Division of Local Mandates
Date published: October 5, 2021

Executive Summary

The roads on which the public travels and the buildings from which services are delivered are in constant need of maintenance and upgrade. The Commonwealth and its constituent municipalities invest huge sums in town halls, roadways, libraries, and public safety facilities, but the ability of municipalities to actually meet local needs varies widely. For rural communities, most of which are in Western Massachusetts, local needs are not and cannot be met without state assistance.

Aging and declining populations, stagnant or decreasing property values, increased education costs, and statewide policies that benefit urban areas all serve to disadvantage the largely rural areas in Berkshire, Franklin, Hampden, and Hampshire Counties. Small municipal staffs without professional engineers, grant writers, or planners are challenged to pursue funding for infrastructure, and state eligibility requirements or formulas make them ineligible for certain funds altogether.

With the possible infusion of federal investments, and a greater state-level focus on infrastructure issues, now is an opportune time to take stock of where investments are most needed in Western Massachusetts and where infrastructure policies in place can be improved to even the playing field for municipalities in that region of the Commonwealth.

There have been a number of commissions, legislators, and advocates who have called attention to issues of infrastructure maintenance in recent years, resulting in multiple state proposals for changes to formulas, granting procedures, and laws. This report builds upon that work, containing findings and recommendations that highlight areas of greatest concern to municipal officials, in the hope that our investigation of this topic may lead to better infrastructure investments in communities across Massachusetts. This report speaks to the need across broad categories of public infrastructure for less complex funding programs and higher levels of financial assistance.

Below is a summary of our findings and recommendations, with links to each page listed.

Finding 1
 

Transportation infrastructure such as roadways, bridges, and culverts are an area of primary concern.

Finding 2
 

Continued investment in high-speed broadband is critical to the success of the region.

Finding 3
 

Lack of infrastructure investment undermines businesses and economic development.

Finding 4
 

Many communities have outdated municipal buildings that are in need of replacement or significant repairs and renovations.

Finding 5
 

There is a lack of formalized support for most municipal buildings.

Recommendation 1
 

1a. The Chapter 90 Program needs additional funding and formula reform.

1b.  Repair and replacement of small bridges and culverts need more funding and attention.

1c.   The Small Town Road Assistance Program requires greater funding and modification.

Recommendation 2
 

The Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) needs to continue to work with networks to make broadband cost effective for areas and customers who currently do not have it, in particular the nine communities for which MBI has not yet provided it. This work should continue at all deliberate speed.

Recommendation 3
 

Create a public infrastructure authority to assist communities with renovation or replacement of municipal buildings.

 

 

A PDF copy of the study - Public Infrastructure in Western Massachusetts: A Critical Need for Regional Investment and Revitalization - is available here.

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