$360 million may not cover state’s transportation needs

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(Host) The Vermont Senate has given its unanimous approval to legislation that calls for spending almost $360 million on state transportation projects next year. Despite the large appropriation, backers of the plan say the proposal doesn’t meet Vermont’s paving and highway maintenance needs.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) The bill, which is financed by using a combination of state and federal funds, allocates money to the state’s paving program, local highway and bridge projects and a variety of rail, air and bicycle programs.

Senate Transportation committee chairman Dick Mazza says he’s concerned because the legislation only meets about 50 percent of the state’s paving and highway needs:

(Mazza) “It keeps us afloat. I’m proud of the bill because it does- we have a balance. We live within our means but I think the needs are so much greater than our revenue stream. And that’s the disappointing part as far as the bill. We balance it well with public transit and rail, highway and bridges and all sources of transportation needs, but that I’m pleased about. But as far as I think we’re falling behind and that’s what concerns me.”

(Kinzel) The legislation also allocates several million dollars to repave sections of the Interstate between Montpelier and Richmond that are crumbling apart. Some of that work is now scheduled to take place this spring, because Mazza says he has never seen the Interstate in such bad shape:

(Mazza) “It’s not really an experimental project. It’s asphalt that served its purpose, it lasted quite a few years but when it starts to crumble other asphalts will crumble less rapidly. This one just fell apart within a six-month period. So it did deteriorate faster than we expected but we did get our life out of the project.”

(Kinzel) The bill also suspends all design work for the third part, or southern leg, of the proposed Bennington Bypass. Earlier this week, the state Transportation Agency disclosed that the cost of the second part, or northern leg, has increased 100 percent above projections – from roughly $45 million to $99 million.

Mazza says it’s likely that some changes are going to have to be made to the design of the second leg and that it makes no sense to design the third part until a final decision is made about the second.

(Mazza) “It isn’t as high a priority as the northern and western, and two it’s a commitment of $45 to $50 million in today’s dollars for something that won’t probably happen for another 12 to 15 years. So why make promises for something that’s that far away when we have a serious problem on the other sections of the Bennington Bypass.”

(Kinzel) The legislation also includes a study to determine if it makes sense for the state to issue special transportation bonds next year to help expand paving and road maintenance projects.

Because the Senate made changes to the House transportation bill, a conference committee will now work out the differences between the two chambers.

For Vermont Public Radio I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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