Vermont to choose transportation priorities

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(Host) Transportation Secretary Pat McDonald says some new state highway projects may have to be delayed because Congress has failed to pass a multi-year transportation bill. McDonald says the Douglas administration and the Legislature may face some tough decisions about future highway spending in Vermont.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Efforts to pass a six-year highway bill were scrapped because Congress and the Bush administration could not agree on appropriate funding levels. The U.S. Senate was pushing for a billion dollars over the six-year period; the White House held firm for an amount that was 20 percent lower. The Senate bill would have resulted in a dramatic increase in federal highway funding for the state of Vermont.

Unable to break this stalemate, both sides agreed to an eight-month extension of current funding levels. It’s a situation that’s causing some problems in Vermont because the Douglas administration and the Legislature were expecting an increase in federal highway funds.

Senator Jim Jeffords, who was a key negotiator for the Senate over this bill, believes the legislation is a victim of the president’s decision to spend hundreds of billions of dollars in Iraq:

(Jeffords) “That’s what of course is a big cause of the problems is the Iraq war. And that is something which was totally I’ve been against from the beginning and totally has really put a serious problem for our whole budget – not only on the highways but in education and everything else. We’re going to suffer form it.”

(Kinzel) Vermont Transportation Secretary Pat McDonald is also disappointed that Congress failed to put a long term highway funding plan in place:

(McDonald) “We need a six-year fully funded bill that we can then make plans going forward. So it’s not helpful.”

(Kinzel) McDonald says the state will now have to review how to best allocate the limited federal funds:

(McDonald) “But there are going to have to be some tough decisions made because we certainly have to fund the projects that are already started. We’ve got contracts in place and in many cases construction already has started, so those we know we have to fund. But then we’re going to have to take a look at what’s on the books and what can we get out within the parameters of the money we know we’re getting.”

(Kinzel) McDonald hopes to have a more detailed review of the impact of the new federal highway bill next week.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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