VTrans focuses on road repairs

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(Host) The Vermont Agency of Transportation is re-aligning its priorities to focus on roadway repairs rather than new projects.

Transportation Secretary Neale Lunderville says Vermont’s aging highways and bridges need work, and that it’s better to spend the money now rather than on more costly emergency repairs later.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Lunderville’s message was blunt. Vermont’s roads and bridges are falling apart faster than the state can afford to fix them.

(Lunderville) “In order to maintain future budgets, in order that we have money available to do all the projects we want, we’ve got to stop and preserve our existing assets today. We’ve got to make our priority system preservation, so that in the future we will have the money for all the other projects that we want to do.”

(Dillon) Lunderville focused much of his talk on the underbelly of the transportation infrastructure – the culverts that keep water from washing out roadways. The state has about 1,100 large culverts – from 6 to 20 feet in length. Many are 30 years old or older, and 89 of these are in serious need of repair.

If all of them failed completely, he says the replacement cost would be around $100 million.

Lunderville says culvert repair may not be exciting, but it’s vitally important to keep the highways safe. He showed a slide of a culvert collapse on a New York highway last summer.

(Lunderville) “This was a culvert that was in disrepair. There was a situation where they had a big storm, they had a lot of water rushing through it, and the integrity of that culvert failed. In this situation unfortunately two people died.”

(Dillon) The VTrans shift in priority won praise from an environmental group that is sometimes at odds with the agency. Sandra Levine of the Conservation Law Foundation says it makes sense to fix the existing infrastructure first.

(Levine) “Cars are the biggest source of global warming pollution in Vermont. New highways cause more driving and more sprawl. And keeping the roads we have in good shape instead of building new ones is probably one of the best things Vermont can do to stop global warming.”

(Dillon) But as the state re-focuses its work on repair, new construction projects will be pushed back. Lunderville says some towns won’t be happy.

(Lunderville) “This is a approach that will be an inconvenience for some communities, that have been given commitments in the past from the agency.”

(Dillon) Lunderville says one project, a by-pass planned for Morristown will be delayed from 2009 to 2012. He says other project delays will be spelled out after the governor presents his budget in January.

But two major projects remain at the top of the Douglas Administration’s priority list. Lunderville says the administration remains committed to the Circumferential Highway in Chittenden County and the Bennington Bypass.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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