(Host) The House has given its strong preliminary approval to next year’s transportation bill. Although the plan increases funding for paving and bridge repairs, backers of the bill are concerned that the state still has a sizeable backlog of important maintenance projects.
VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.
(Kinzel) According to House Transportation Chairman Richard Westman, the state faces some critical challenges in making sure that Vermont’s transportation infrastructure is properly maintained in the future.
Westman says the new bill increases the paving budget by almost twenty percent, to forty-seven million dollars. But he says the state would have to spend almost double this amount every year for several years to catch up on the backlog of projects.
Although Congress has not passed a new transportation bill for more than six months, Westman says it’s likely that federal appropriations to Vermont could increase by as much forty million dollars in the next fiscal year. In order to take advantage of these funds, Westman says the state must be prepared to provide a roughly ten percent match for the federal money. That’s why the bill includes a two-dollar and fifty-cent increase in car and truck inspection fees.
(Westman) “Because we think that the problems are so great out there that we have to draw down as much money as we can. And we have to start concentrating on what the long-range problems are in our infrastructure and what is out there. This is something that our committee feels very strongly about.”
(Kinzel) Westman says hundreds of the state’s bridges are now at the point where they need preventative maintenance. This bill allocates just over twenty-six million dollars in state and federal funds for these projects.
(Westman) “And many bridges with the interstate system, there was a big influx of federal money and changes made in the late fifties and early sixties. A lot of those bridges are the bridges now that are at the forty-year level or just going past. And they’re the bridges that if we do a little extra work on them right now, we could repair and maintain those bridges and save ourself a lot of money in the long run.”
(Kinzel) The legislation also postpones a plan to renovate a rest area on Interstate 91 just south of the intersection of I-91 and Interstate 89.
Colchester Rep. Patrick Brennan explains why.
(Brennan)”Federal border patrol authorities have used the southbound Hartford rest areas as a checkpoint and have indicated their intention to establish a permanent residence there possibly building a new facility.”
(Kinzel) The measure will come up for final approval in the House on Friday.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.