Highways & Public Works

Cities and towns are authorized by the Massachusetts General Laws (M.G.L.s) to lay out, maintain, alter, relocate and discontinue public ways, as well as to lay out and maintain storm water drainage, drinking water and sewer systems, construct sidewalks and erect street lamps. In addition, local public works departments are responsible for maintaining parks, forestry/tree maintenance and cemetery facilities. Alongside education and public safety, the creation and maintenance of highway and public works infrastructure is one of the costliest sections of the municipal operating budget.

Many Massachusetts cities and towns are sharing resources through collective purchases of highway supplies and services, including regional winter salt and sand, or a Massachusetts Operational Services Division (OSD) bid for rock salt. In addition, Massachusetts communities have a history of collectively purchasing such items as gravel, guardrails and plow blades, and services such as line painting and the application of bituminous concrete to resurface roads.

Similarly, cities and towns may share equipment such as bucket trucks, wood chippers, rollers, street sweepers or other equipment, often through unofficials “handshake” deals, particularly for pieces of equipment that are essential but required on an intermittent basis.

Statutory Requirements

Chapters 81 through 92B of the M.G.L. detail the specifics of establishing and maintaining municipal highways and other public works infrastructure.

Types of Agreements

There are a few M.G.L. chapters and sections that govern the regionalization of highway and public works services.

  • Chapter 83, Section 1 allows for the joint operation of sewer treatment and storm water control systems
  • Chapter 40N, Section 25 provides the means to form a regional water and sewer commission and district
  • Chapter 84, Section 5 allows municipalities that host common roadways to arrange for joint maintenance
  • Chapter 40 Section 4K establishes a statewide public works mutual aid law that governs the sharing of equipment and personnel between municipalities for addressing public safety incidents and for general maintenance purposes.

In addition, municipal leaders may use the Inter-Municipal Agreement (“IMA”) Law to share highway and public works services

Resources

Massachusetts Department of Revenue Report on the Towns of Hamilton and Wenham: Enhanced Regionalization and Merger Analysis

Examples of Successful Municipal Agreements

Gill, Northfield and Vernon (VT) Bucket Truck Joint Procurement.  These three towns shared the purchase and continued operational use of a bucket truck for tree trimming and other uses. An inter-municipal agreement governs the use of the truck and how costs are shared.

Hamilton and Wenham Facilities Manager
Building on a history of working together, these towns jointly hired one manager to take charge of maintenance and repair of all facilities in both towns, including schools. The person reports to each DPW director.

Litchfield Hills (CT) Public Works Equipment Cooperative
The Litchfield Hills Council of Elected Officials received a grant from the State of Connecticut Street to form a cooperative. Eleven towns participate and the first items purchased were two street sweepers and a vacuum truck. A Memorandum of Understanding governs the cooperative. Host towns garage and maintain the equipment. Participating towns share the cost of maintenance and contribute annually to a capital replacement fund.