State Says Federal Cap Could Cost Vt. $80 Million For Roads

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(Host) State officials are concerned that the state’s share of repairing Vermont roads and bridges could be as much as $80 million.

That’s because there are caps on how much money the federal government will cover.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Federal funds cover 100 percent of the repair costs to state roads and bridges after a disaster emergency has been declared. But there’s a catch.

The 100 percent match is capped at $100 million. And the money must be spent within 180 days. For repair costs above this cap, states must pay 20 percent of the expense.

Vermont transportation officials estimate that it will cost between $300 million and $500 million to repair the damage to the state’s transportation infrastructure.

Administration Secretary Jeb Spaulding says Congress has been willing to waive these caps in the past. But he’s worried that the political climate in Washington has changed.

(Spaulding) "It has been routine up until these days that Congress has lifted the caps and extended the time frame when it’s appropriate….But anybody who watches the news these days knows these are not routine times in Washington, D.C. So we can’t have any assurance that that 100 percent money will be available over the $100 million cap."

(Kinzel) If the state doesn’t get a waiver, Spaulding says, it may be necessary to issue a special transportation bond or consider using part of the Rainy Day Fund.

(Spaulding) "Between the federal government, and insurance and state funds, we will have the funding in place to repair the state of Vermont."

(Kinzel) Sue Minter is Vermont’s Deputy Transportation Secretary.  She says her Agency’s top priority is to get these repair projects done.

(Minter) "We can’t stop now and ask how we’re going to pay for it. We have to get this done. We’re working to expedite for the safety of our traveling public and for the future of our economy. We will work with the federal delegation to help us get the federal money flowing. And we’ll have to work with our Legislature if it turns to any more state dollars."

(Kinzel) Congressman Peter Welch is optimistic that Congress will support a waiver for Vermont and other states affected by Tropical Storm Irene. He’s created a special caucus of members from states that have experienced a lot of storm damage and he thinks the caucus will want to be involved with this issue:

(Welch) "Because it’s not a special pleading that we’re making just for Vermont. Folks in other states that were in the path of that hurricane suffered as well. Now Vermont got it worse than most. But everyone who lost a business, lost a home, they’re really in the same position. And creating that common ground and the common approach, I think, is what will help Vermont the most."

(Kinzel) Welch says he’s hopeful that Vermont’s waiver could be included in other legislation that needs to pass in the next few weeks.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier

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