State moves quickly to authorize stimulus money

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(Host) The Douglas Administration is moving very quickly to authorize $85 million in new federal stimulus money for several dozen road and bridge projects across Vermont.

The projects are expected to create at least 3000 new jobs in the state.

VPRs Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) The 31 projects were chosen because they’ve been sitting on top of the priority list at the Agency of Transportation for some time. These projects have their environmental permits and are ready to be started as soon as the weather gets warmer.

Transportation Secretary David Dill says things are moving quickly because the state needs to obligate 50% of its stimulus money within 120 days. Dill says the remaining half of the money can be allocated over the next 12 months:

(Dill) "So the projects list you’re seeing now let’s call it phase one of stimulus in highway we’re attempting to meet the bill’s restrictions on getting money out as quickly as possible so that we don’t leave any money on the table."

House Transportation chairman Richard Westman says a major goal of this plan is to reduce the number of state miles that are in very poor paving condition – currently 36% of Vermont’s roads fall into this category:

(Westman) "There are a large number of these projects that are paving projects and they’re all set with a whole list of dates when they’re going out to bid and most of those are going out to bid as we speak."

Secretary Dill says he’s confident that there are enough companies to bid on these projects but he does have a concern:

(Dill) "My biggest concern is with so much demand across the country what’s the impact going to be on prices?"

Dill says the state is applying for a special federal grant to finance the next phase of the Bennington By Pass, because if the state wins this grant, it will free up a lot of money for other projects:

(Dill) "If we can get the competitive grant then that’s 22 million dollars more than we would get out of regular stimulus that’s a separate pot of money."

While transportation officials are pleased about getting the federal stimulus money, there are some concerns. House Transportation Chairman Westman says the law prohibits individual states from reducing their financial commitment to transportation programs.

(Westman) "What worries me is that the governor has to certify that we’re maintaining our same level of state spending to the feds at a time where our revenues are still dropping – now we have to be cognizant of that fact."

Lawmakers are expected to finalize the list of phase one stimulus projects by the end of the week. The goal is to have the full Legislature give its approval to the plan right after the Town Meeting Day break.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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