Route 7 proposal wins transportation award

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(Host) Vermont officials say their chances of getting critical federal funding for several large-scale transportation projects in the western part of the state are looking up.

As VPR’s Nina Keck reports, a proposal to improve road and rail traffic along Route 7 has been recognized in a national competition to promote smart growth.

(Keck) Rutland wants to move its downtown rail yard. Pittsford and Brandon have been working to improve Route 7. In Middlebury, officials want to create a rail spur that would enable local industries to use trains rather than trucks to move supplies. And there’s been a push to restore passenger rail service between Bennington and Burlington.

Matthew Sternberg, executive director of the Rutland Redevelopment Authority, says if the state wants to get vital federal funding for these projects, it’s important to consider them as part of a larger improvement plan for the entire Route 7 corridor. A proposal he and Vermont officials created to do just that has been recognized for its innovation by the American Association for State Highway and Transportation Officials:

(Sternberg) “As we looked at this problem of how to get federal funding, it was clear that we needed a concept that had a broader reach. Just going down to Washington with a nice project up in Vermont has a limited appeal because every community everywhere has a project that they need to get done. And in fact, what we’re looking at is an old industrial infrastructure – an old rail line, an old highway system – and this is a problem shared by communities across the country. And so we’re hoping that by defining the corridor in a way that will be meaningful to other people, it will help us build support for this project as we try to get funding for it.”

(Keck) The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials is a nonprofit organization that represents departments of transportation of the fifty states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Twenty-one states submitted 32 applications for the competition on smart growth. Vermont’s proposal was one of eight to be recognized. While there’s no monetary award, Sternberg says the third party endorsement will help the projects tremendously when it comes to funding.

(Sternberg) “It’s one thing for us to go down to Washington and say, we have a great idea from Vermont. With this award, we can go down and say, we have an award-winning, nationally recognized idea from Vermont. And what this award does is help distinguish our project from others and we think this will be a big help in gaining the attention we need to get the thing funded.”

(Keck) Getting funding will be no small challenge. Sternberg estimates the cost for the Rutland rail yard project alone to be about $100 million. Add in the other projects and he says the tab is closer to $230 million. Despite the price tag, Sternberg and state transportation officials are optimistic that when lawmakers reauthorize the transportation spending bill next year, Vermont will have a better chance at being on the receiving end.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Nina Keck in Rutland.

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