Paving, bridge projects get priority in transportation spending plan

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(Host) Paving projects and repairs to highway bridges lead the list of work to be funded by an additional $10 million in state transportation spending.

The chairman of the House Transportation Committee says the new money will help. But he said the state is still behind in fixing the aging road network.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Late in the legislative session, Governor Jim Douglas proposed a plan to help stimulate the economy. The centerpiece was $10 million the state will borrow to pay for more road work.

On Wednesday, Transportation Secretary Neale Lunderville briefed lawmakers on how the money will be spent.

Topping the list is about eight miles of new pavement for Route 116 between St. George and South Burlington. Other paving projects are planned for Route 9 in southern Vermont, and Route 7 between Manchester and Dorset.

The paving portion totals about $6 million of the $10 million. Lunderville says the money will buy a substantial amount of new blacktop, in addition to the 100 miles the state had already planned to re-surface.

(Lunderville) “We’re spending $6 million primarily of state money to advance 24 miles. So that’s a 24 percent bump, over and above the 100 miles that we’re going with our job. So it’s a significant amount of more paving, and work that people will see this summer.”

(Dillon) Most of the rest of the money will go to bridge repair and maintenance. Eight bridges on the interstate will be worked on this summer.

Lunderville says the goal is to avoid more costly repairs in the future.

(Lunderville) “That $500,000, we believe, we’ll be able to extend the life of those eight bridges by 10 years.”

(Dillon) The decision to borrow more money to pay for road and bridge repair came after a series of cuts to the transportation budget.

Richard Westman is a Cambridge Republican who chairs the House Transportation Committee. He said when you count the new bond money against the cuts and revenue downgrades, the state is only $3 million or $4 million ahead of where it was a year ago.

The transportation fund gets its money from gas taxes and purchase and use taxes for vehicles. Both sources are declining, because of the high price of gas and because people are buying smaller, less expensive cars.

Westman says that the declining revenues means lawmakers need to find new sources of money to fix the aging infrastructure.

(Westman) “We have revenue sources that are anemic. And this bonding money doesn’t deal with that. It’s only a piece of an overall problem. Some of the big, underlying problems – and the reason we need to do this – still are there and still need to be dealt with.”

(Dillon) Lunderville says the bonding money is not meant to make up for revenue shortfalls. He said it was designed to get needed work done this summer.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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