(Host) Vermont transportation officials say the era of big highway projects is coming to a close as they place a higher priority on repairs to the existing road and bridge network.
The shift is reflected in the state transportation budget, which provides a major boost to paving and bridge work.
VPR’s John Dillon reports:
(Sounds of truck and jackhammer)
(Dillon) A construction crew removes rusted beams from a bridge across the Winooski River in Montpelier. This steel truss span was built in 1929, and like many across the state, it’s showing its age.
The bridge closed in February, forcing traffic delays in Montpelier. Similar detours will soon be seen all around Vermont.
(Mazza) "Be prepared for a lot of construction this summer, and I think we’re making great progress."
(Dillon) Grand Isle Senator Dick Mazza is the chairman of the Senate Transportation committee.
He says that with the exception of a few major road projects, the Bennington by-pass and another by-pass around Morrisville, the major focus now is on repair and maintenance.
(Mazza) "Once those major projects are behind us, and the Bennington by-pass is almost finished, then we can put the emphasis on maintaining what we have. I don’t see any big projects in the pipeline for the next 10-20 years."
(Dillon) John Zicconi is a spokesman for the Agency of Transportation. He says the shift in budget priorities began several years ago.
(Zicconi) "In the last two years we have put $400 million – a little more than that actually – into just paving and bridges. Those are record amounts for the Agency of Transportation here in Vermont. And that’s a real emphasis on us taking care of trying to reduce the number of miles that are in bad shape and also reduce the number of bridges we have that are structurally deficient."
(Dillon) Zicconi says paving, bridges and rail projects all got a boost in the budget. The rail budget went up 154 percent thanks to federal stimulus money. This year’s paving program is expected to cost about $120 million and cover about 300 miles of highway.
But he says some of the big, new highway projects – including two planned for Chittenden County -will have to wait until the money is available.
(Zicconi) "Now some of the larger projects out there are the Circ Highway, there’s the Southern Connector. And there’s a few others. And we’ve been clear we can’t be doing all those projects all at once. They have to be done spaced out so that we can fit the money for them into our budget and still take care of the infrastructure we have."
(Dillon) The Circumferential Highway has been on the drawing board for 25 years, but has been held up by court challenges and environmental concerns. The state recently proposed a design change so it will avoid wetlands in Williston. The Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers are reviewing the changes.
Zicconi says the state transportation budget includes half a million dollars for engineering work this year on the Circ Highway.
For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.