"Our Federal Highway Trust Fund is running out of money," said Sue Minter, Deputy Secretary for the Vermont Agency of Transportation. She has just returned from a trip to Washington where she testified to a Senate panel. The fund that provides transportation dollars to all 50 states is set to run out in July.
"It is absolutely imperative that we come together and that we review the fund so that states and cities get the money they need to rebuild," said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt), a member of a panel and the senator who invited Minter to Washington.
60% of VTrans projects are paid for by federal dollars. Some sectors have an even higher proportion, like 80% of bridge funding and 90% of interstate highway funding.
Projects that already have contracts and are on the calendar for the upcoming construction season will still go on this summer. Others are up in the air, like three bridges over Stowe St. in Waterbury, Vt that are supposed to be replaced. Their joints have worn out due to snow melt and salt.
"Every project we put out on the street are jobs in the construction industry, well-paying jobs," said Minter. "Anytime we slow down the number of projects we're putting forward, we are actually seeing direct job impacts."
"At the time when unemployment is where it is, if you want to create decent paying jobs, the best way you can do it is invest in infrastructure," said Sen. Sanders. "So that's roads, bridges, water systems, waste-water plants, airports."
In the Vermont State Legislature, Sen. Dick Mazza's transportation committee helps decide VTrans budget.
"It's very difficult for us to make our decisions going into the construction season without some solid, concrete evidence that we're going to get some federal funds," said Sen. Mazza (D-Chittenden-Grand Isle).
Senator Sanders says he does think congress will act before the money runs out. The question is exactly where the money will come from, and if taxpayers will take on any of the burden.
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