BOSTON -- Massachusetts Gov. William F. Weld yesterday afternoon signed into law a measure that appropriates $2.4 billion for road, bridge, and tunnel repairs throughout the state.
The money, to be raised through the sale of state-backed general obligation bonds, will be used mainly for repair work on more than 300 projects. So far, neither the date of the bond sale nor its structure has been announced
Both the state House of Representatives and Senate approved the measure late Monday.
The law is a big step toward improving the state's infrastructure, but only a first step, said one of the law's biggest backers.
"This bill is a start and will allow us to salvage the remainder of the construction season," said Rep. Stephen J. Karol, D-Dedham, chairman of the House transportation committee. "This bill will be used to fund the many projects in the state that are ready to go."
The bulk of the authorization will be used to pay the state's share of the Central Artery/Third Harbor Tunnel project.
In the law, Weld authorized state Treasurer Joseph D. Malone to pay $1 billion for tunnel construction that has been completed. Of that, approximately $892 million will be returned to the state from the federal government.
Malone's office will be authorized to sell general obligation bonds to make up the difference.
The law authorizes the state to sell GOs and allows for some projects to be funded from the proceeds of a state special obligation sale backed by the revenues of the state's gasoline tax.
Although the Central Artery project will receive the bulk of the money, the law contains a long list of other projects that will be funded by the proceeds from the bond sale. These include a $28 million viaduct repair on Route 91 in Springfield; a $17 million resurfacing in Brockton and West Bridgewater; a $5.6 million reconstruction of Plantation Street in Worcester; $8 million in repairs to Boston's Summer Street Bridge; and a $500,000 repair to the Newton Street Bridge in Amesbury.
Initially, the funds for these repairs were part of a larger $7 billion transportation bill, which included not only the construction projects, but a plan to create a metropolitan highsway district for greater Boston.
The system would have consisted of the Sumner and Callahan tunnels, the third harbor tunnel, the Mystic-Tobin Bridge, the Central Artery, and the Boston extension of the Massachusetts Turnpike that runs from Boston to Route 128.
But political wrangling between the legislature's Democratic leadership and the Republican governor's office put the plan on hold.
The bill was also stalled by the Senate's inclusion of a $500 million amendment that would allow a convention center and stadium to be built in Boston.
Karol said the House has established a subcommittee to investigate the real cost of the project, known as the Megaplex, and where it should be located.
"The construction of a convention center is a large enough question to stand or fall on its own merits," he said. "It would not have been proper to just include a half billion dollars' worth of bonds as an amendment."
Karol said the state will need to authorize between $3.5 billion and $4 billion more for transportation improvements.