Road repair cost projection higher than anticipated

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(Host) According to a new study, the price tag to repair the state’s roads and bridges is larger than previously projected.

The Douglas Administration says it can meet these needs without increasing the state’s transportation budget but several key lawmakers are skeptical about the Administration’s approach.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) The new report was done by the Legislature’s Joint Fiscal Office. It concludes that the percentage of state roads that are in "very poor condition" will more than double in just 3 years at current funding levels.

Presently, it’s estimated that 21% of Vermont’s roads are in "very poor" condition. The report concludes that the number will jump to 43 % by 2010 if the state continues to spend roughly $56 million a year on its paving budget.
The report also says that previous estimates to repair deficient state bridges are far too low.

Grand Isle senator Dick Mazza is the chairman of the Senate Transportation committee.

He says the time has come to review every aspect of the state’s transportation system to determine if any services can be eliminated:

(Mazza) "I think we have to look at everything available. And I think that will happen this year and we’ll make some decisions and will they be popular I don’t know it’s going to be tough."

(Kinzel) Transportation Secretary Neal Lunderville told members of the Joint Transportation Oversight committee that his agency will present lawmakers with a comprehensive plan to improve the state’s transportation infrastructure in January.

But Lunderville, under questioning from Senate Appropriations chairwoman Susan Bartlett, said the Administration wouldn’t recommend a significant increase in spending as part of its plan:

(Bartlett) "Neal, to me you’re implying then that in the budget there are going to be an extra 20 – 30 – 40 million dollars in transportation?"

(Lunderville) "No senator, this is an issue that we should not look at simply new ways to look at revenue. That is one side of the equation. The other side of the equation is how do we manage costs within our existing program to free up money for construction and maintenance."

(Kinzel) House Appropriations chairwoman Martha Heath says she doubts the Administration can present a workable plan without taking money from other critical non transportation programs:

(Heath) "Frankly what I expect is what we’ve gotten before they’ll raid the Education Fund and the Legislature won’t agree to that so then it’s in the Legislature’s lap and we won’t be able to agree what to do."

(Kinzel) Lawmakers are considering a proposal from the Snelling Center to conduct a comprehensive study of the state’s transportation system but it’s unlikely that the results of the study will be available until after the 2008 session.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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