General satisfaction with transportation spending trim plan

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(Host) Vermont lawmakers are generally satisfied with the Douglas Administration’s plan to trim $10.5 million in transportation spending.

Legislators said today the state has tried to make the cuts as painless as possible. But some worried that the funding problems simply have been postponed until next year.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The cuts were necessary because of a shortfall in Transportation Fund revenues.

Transportation Secretary Neale Lunderville told members of the House and Senate Transportation Committees that he tried to cut the budget so it wouldn’t hurt towns and their road projects. Lunderville said his other goals were to preserve federal funding and to avoid unnecessary delays in project construction.

(Lunderville) “Actually, there are only four projects that are – that the Agency has delayed purposefully in this project. The other projects have uncontrollable delays for other reasons, permitting, right of way, etcetera.”

(Dillon) Two Interstate bridge projects, one in Berlin, the other in Guilford, have been pushed back a year.

Culvert repairs to a bridge in Jay were also postponed, as was a project in Wallingford.

Dick Mazza is chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. He says the agency has done a good job adjusting the budget.

(Mazza) “These are very difficult times, very tight times. Financially it’s not easy to come up with $10 million. I think they did it in a well- balanced manner. They did it without delaying any projects in towns and in areas that needed the projects.”

(Dillon) The Transportation Agency reduced funding for the north leg of the Bennington by-pass, a project that’s very important to local officials. But Lunderville says the by-pass work had to be postponed anyway because of right of way concerns. He says the budget cut won’t affect project construction.

Bennington Senator Dick Sears says he’s satisfied, for now.

(Sears) “We have a long history of being let down on this by-pass. So I think it’s a matter for those of us in Bennington County of holding the administration’s feet to the fire, and making sure that they come through with this, and keep us moving forward in ’08.”

(Dillon) Lawmakers raised other concerns about the future of the transportation budget. Senator Susan Bartlett chairs the Appropriations Committee. She questioned Lunderville about the impact of the cuts on next year’s budget.

(Bartlett) “These commitments are rolled forward until next year. And it seems to me inevitable that some other commitments are going to get bumped.”

(Dillon) Lunderville says the budget he is now putting together for next year will begin to address some of the long-term challenges.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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