Transportation bill good for Vermont

By:  Brattleobro Reformer

Vermont got some welcome news from Washington this week. Federal funds to help the state rebuild after Tropical Storm Irene are included in a stopgap spending measure that took shape on Monday.

The transportation bill agreed to by House and Senate negotiators includes a provision to replenish the Federal Highway Administration's Emergency Relief Fund and provide important cost waivers that are crucial to repairing and rebuilding roads and bridges damaged by Tropical Storm Irene.

Specifically, the bill would remove a cap on federal road and bridge assistance, likely ensuring up to $250 million in aid for repairing Vermont's state transportation infrastructure damaged in Tropical Storm Irene. The measure also provides more than $1.6 billion to the Federal Highway Administration emergency fund to guarantee funds are available, and it authorizes 100 percent reimbursement for emergency repairs beyond the current limit of 180 days -- meaning projects that extend into the spring and beyond will be eligible for full coverage from Washington.

Gov. Peter Shumlin says the bill will allow Vermont to rebuild better than Irene found us, ensuring that the state can afford repair and building projects in a way that reduces the likelihood of future weather-related damage, as well as transportation projects already on the books and unrelated to storm damage.

Furthermore, the bill also includes truck weight provisions for Vermont, to move heavy trucks from smaller state roads, including roads crossing through the downtowns of several Vermont communities, onto the state's interstate highways. This would reduce the wear and tear on local roads, not to mention resolving traffic congestion and safety issues.

"Vermont's Congressional delegation fought hard to secure this aid," Shumlin said. "I am so grateful to Sens. Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders, and Rep. Peter Welch for their work."

The full House and Senate are expected to approve the measure later this week.