America’s infrastructure needs an enormous amount of work. Vermont is no different.
“As most Americans know, our rail lines, roads, bridges, culverts, water systems, wastewater plants, airports and schools need an enormous amount of work,” Sen. Bernie Sanders said. “In my view, it is far more important to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure and create millions of jobs than give tax breaks to people who just don’t need it.”
When Congress reconvenes, Sanders said he plans to introduce legislation to use the $700 billion that would otherwise be used to extend tax cuts for the wealthy “in a much more sensible way.” The tax cuts on households that earn more than $250,000 a year are set to expire on Dec. 31.
“Instead of continuing the tax breaks for the rich, my legislation will require that we use roughly half of that revenue to reduce our national debt and roughly half of that money to rebuild our deteriorating infrastructure,” he said. Sanders would keep in place the tax relief for 98 percent of American households that earn less than $250,000 each year.
The recession has lingered since December 2007. More than 21,000 Vermonters remained jobless in August, creating an unemployment rate of 6 percent. While Vermont has weathered the recession better than most states, the state’s economy could use a boost to emerge from the most severe economic downturn since the Great Depression.
Rebuilding the state’s infrastructure will create jobs. For every $1 billion in federal funds invested in transportation infrastructure, 47,500 jobs are created or preserved, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Last year, the American Society of Civil Engineers graded America's roads, public transit and aviation with a “D” and said $2.2 trillion must be invested our infrastructure over the next five years. Vermont’s report card did not look much better.
In Vermont, roads, bridges and wastewater were identified as the “top three infrastructure concerns.” That includes a determination that 35 percent of Vermont’s 2,700 bridges -- nearly 1,000 bridges-- are either “structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.” Of those, nearly 500 have structural deficiencies.
The federal stimulus program will rehabilitate 22 bridges in Vermont, according to John Zicconi of the Vermont Agency of Transportation. But much more work needs to be done.
“We must repair the remainder sooner or later,” Sanders said. “Why not now?”
Vermont’s rail system, which pre-dates the Civil War in some sections, also needs to updated for the 21st century.
Progress is being made. Sanders played a role in ensuring $50 million federal stimulus have been deployed to improve “The Vermonter” rail line, which winds its way from St. Albans, Vt. to Washington, D.C. Even with those improvements, the region’s railways remain incomplete.
“It’s absurd that, right now, the only way to travel from Vermont’s largest city to Boston, New England’s commercial hub, is to drive. We can do better. Vermont and all of New England would benefit substantially if high-speed rail connected Boston to Montreal with stops in Vermont,” Sanders said.
The United States is falling behind some international competitors. On rail alone, the Chinese invested $186 billion from 2006 through 2009. And, according to The New York Times, within two years China will open 42 new high-speed rail lines that will have trains that can reach speeds of more than 210 miles per hour.
“It’s vitally important for the future of our country that we get our priorities right,” Sanders said. “In my view, it is much more important that we lower our federal deficit and create millions of jobs rebuilding our deteriorating infrastructure than it is to give huge tax breaks to the wealthiest people in our country.”