By: Linda Dean Campbell – June, 2019
In May, the Legislature advanced two pieces of legislation to improve road safety in the Commonwealth. One authorizes the sale of state bonds to finance road improvement projects. The second prohibits the use of handheld electronic devices while driving.
The first bill, which has passed both the House and Senate, allocates $200 million for improvements to municipally-owned roads and bridges under the state’s Chapter 90 program. This program distributes state funds to cities and towns to reimburse eligible roadway infrastructure projects, including resurfacing, sidewalks, drainage, traffic control, and more. Municipalities decide how to use the funding and may use it for numerous small projects or save it for larger projects.
Another $200 million is appropriated for state rail and transit projects as well as $1.5 billion for federal highway projects, (80% of the latter will be reimbursed by the federal government).
Haverhill currently has two federal road projects planned: the Bradford Rail Trail Extension near Route 125, slated to begin in the summer of 2020, and the Haverhill Intersection Reconstruction on Route 108, slated to begin in the fall of 2021. The cost of these projects totals about $3 million.
This investment in road infrastructure will help to improve driving conditions, reduce traffic and commuting times, and spur economic development in our region. The bill awaits a signature from Governor Baker to become law.
The second piece of legislation, which has passed the House, will reduce distracted driving by prohibiting the use of handheld devices, namely cell phones, while operating a motor vehicle. The bill allows devices to be used only in hands-free mode with voice communication. A single tap or swipe to activate voice communication is allowed, and devices can be used for navigation as long as they are mounted to the vehicle and only require a tap or swipe. There are exceptions for first responders and in cases of emergency.
The penalty for violating the law will be a fine of $100 for a first offense, $250 for a second offense, and $500 for a third or subsequent offense. This year will be a grace period during which warnings will be issued for violations, and starting in 2020, fines will be issued. A violation of this law will NOT be a surchargeable offense that affects one’s insurance.
The bill also directs the state to carry out a public awareness campaign about the law and the dangers of distracted driving. The bill must now pass the Senate and be signed by Governor Baker to become law. This is a very important step to reduce the many tragic accidents in our state caused by distracted driving.
State Representative Linda Dean Campbell represents the cities of Methuen and Haverhill in the State Legislature and serves as House Chair of the Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs. She can be reached at Linda.Campbell@mahouse.gov or (617) 722-2380. ◊