BOSTON (SHNS) – Do you know where the nearest structurally deficient bridge is? As of two years ago, the average Massachusetts resident didn’t have to travel far to find a span that, while not inherently unsafe, was at a greater risk of structural failure — just 1.7 miles, according to a new report released in coordination with the campaign to pass a new income surtax this November.
The Massachusetts Budget & Policy Center report released on Wednesday looked at the 644 bridges that were listed in a Mass. Department of Transportation database as structurally deficient as of June 2020 and determined that one in every 12 bridges in Massachusetts fit the label, meaning that at least one major component had serious problems and was in need of repair or replacement. An average of 11 percent of the daily vehicle bridge crossings in Massachusetts are over structurally deficient bridges, according to the report, which used the most recent official state data on bridge conditions.
“The Orange Line isn’t Massachusetts’ only infrastructure with serious problems of deferred maintenance,” Phineas Baxandall, senior analyst at MassBudget and co-author of the report, said. “This report shines a light on 644 bridges in need of repair or replacement. Every one of these bridges is important. They should remain safe, open to traffic, and well maintained. Increased investment will be required to realize that vision.”
The report was released at midnight and at 10 a.m. Baxandall was a featured speaker at a press conference hosted by supporters of the Yes on 1 campaign working to convince voters this November to support a Constitutional amendment that would add a 4 percent surtax on annual household income above $1 million. The virtual press event featured advocates Zooming in from structurally deficient bridges in Springfield, Hyde Park, Worcester and other communities to describe how those bridges impact their day-to-day lives.
“Every day I pass over this bridge to drop my grandkids off to school and to do home visits for my job as a social worker for the Department of Children and Families. It’s one of the only throughpoints connecting two of the busiest neighborhoods in the city and thousands of people have to drive over this bridge everyday to drop kids off,” Ethel Everett of Springfield said from the St. James Avenue bridge in her city. She added, “It also connects people to one of the only grocery stores close to these neighborhoods. If this bridge were to deteriorate at a point in closure, it would seriously impede the community and force residents to go well out of their way to reach grocery stores, to reach their houses of worship, to reach schools, to reach other retail stores that are not in the neighborhood.”
The surtax proposal would shift the state away from the flat income tax rate structure enshrined in the Massachusetts Constitution. If the amendment is approved by voters, the first $1 million of household income would still be taxed at the current 5 percent tax rate and household income above that first $1 million would be taxed at an effective rate of 9 percent.
It would add an estimated $1.3 billion in annual revenue for the state, according to a report published this year by the Center for State Policy Analysis at Tufts University.
The text of the amendment calls for the revenue to go towards transportation and education, but the Legislature retains the ultimate decision-making power over state spending and theoretically could use money that the surtax brings in to supplant existing state funding for transportation and education.
“Question 1 is deceptive,” the Coalition to Stop the Tax Hike Amendment said on its website. “The ballot question’s text plainly states that its funds are ‘subject to appropriation.’ And make no mistake — this language was intentional. In 2019, Beacon Hill politicians rejected two amendments that would have required the new tax revenues to be used to increase funding for education and transportation. Instead, under this language, politicians could legally use the appropriations process to divert existing dollars away from education and transportation — and use them instead for pet projects — while funding for education and transportation could remain the same or even decrease.”
Surtax supporters have said they feel confident that the Legislature would use the proceeds to provide more money for transportation and education.
In the MassBudget report, Baxandall makes the case that increased public investment “has a clear track record in making a difference to improve the condition of bridges.” He pointed to $3 billion spent through the Accelerated Bridge Project as an effort that “paid off with major improvements to the overall condition of bridges across the Commonwealth.”
“No similar commitment has been made since. Bond bills that could provide resources to fix large numbers of bridges would still need funds put aside to pay back these borrowed funds and might not even be enough to keep up with the aging and wear of bridges across the state,” the report states.