Sanders details project funds (Bennington Banner)

By Neal Goswami

BENNINGTON — U.S. Sen. Bernard Sanders announced an earmark in the federal budget Tuesday to help fund a project to create a transportation hub in Bennington.

"I'm really delighted to be here today to announce that my office was able to secure over $328,000 ... for a multi-modal facility here in Bennington," Sanders, I-Vt., told reporters at a town office press conference Tuesday afternoon. "This is a step forward. This is a great community and I expect that this funding is another step forward in helping to revitalize the downtown."

Town officials have been mulling over the possibility of a parking structure and transportation hub for more than a decade, according to Bennington Town Manager Stuart A. Hurd. He said the town has been looking to construct a facility that would serve as a transportation hub for taxis, buses and other modes of transportation that will help connect the town with Albany, N.Y., and other metropolitan areas.

But the original plan called for constructing a parking garage along with the transportation hub. The federal government has since changed the rules, however, and will not allow the allocated funds to be used for parking, according to Hurd.

He said the town will be looking to place the facility where parking is already available, preferably in the downtown.

"It will be in the downtown. We've looked at three different locations over the last several years, all within the downtown and all encompassing municipal parking areas," Hurd said.

Sanders said the funding should help to boost efforts already underway to rekindle activity in the designated downtown.

"It is no great secret that Bennington and communities all over the state of Vermont are trying to revitalize their downtown," he said "They're trying to bring people downtown. They're trying to make downtown a place where they not only shop but enjoy cultural activities."

Hurd said the town still has work to do to before the project can begin. Local funding will need to be included along with state and private investment to complete the project, he said.

"It's something we are very, very hopeful that will come to pass. Obviously, there is a lot of work to do. It's going to take more than the $328,000. We know we've got to raise some local funds and we will probably be looking for some additional state transportation dollars and perhaps some private money."

Earmarks have become a hot-button issue in Washington as members of Congress face more scrutiny over money they secure for their home districts. Sanders said Tuesday, however, that he felt no need to defend the money he secured for Bennington.

"If I thought that this earmark was such a bad idea would I have invited you here? I would have snuck it into the bill at night," Sanders said. "I'm proud of it. If somebody wants to criticize me for trying to help a great community become revitalized and get its downtown stronger, they can criticize me. I'll take that responsibility. If they want to blame me they can blame me."