BURLINGTON, Vt., Feb. 13 - As the U.S. Senate gears up to debate a transportation funding bill this week, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) told a press conference in Vermont that the measure would provide $408 million for the state over the next two years.
Sanders was joined at the press conference by Vermont Transportation Secretary Brian Searles. Stressing the importance of a federal aid, Searles said federal funds make up 80 percent of the funding for many road and bridge construction projects in Vermont.
Sanders, a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, helped draft the bill now before the full Senate. At the press conference, he talked about the need to repair roads and bridges in Vermont and nationwide.
In Vermont, Sanders said there was a backlog in repairs needed to maintain roads and bridges even before Tropical Storm Irene caused extensive damage last summer. He congratulated Searles and his staff, the Vermont National Guard and private contractors "for their exemplary work responding to the damage caused by Irene." Sanders worked with Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) to make sure Vermont received the federal resources it needs to rebuild after the storm.
More work remains to be done, Sanders said. "Anyone who drives around Vermont sees the need for transportation improvements. Just under one-third of Vermont's bridges are ‘structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.' Thirty-six percent of our federal-aid roads are in need of major repairs. In fact, a national report recently ranked Vermont's rural roads as the worst in the nation, and that was before Tropical Strom Irene caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage," Sanders said.
The senator also said investments in roads and bridges are one of the most effective ways to create jobs. "It is estimated that this bill will save more than 1.8 million jobs nationwide in each of the next two years, and it will create a million new jobs through an expanded infrastructure-financing program. At a time when the construction industry is extremely depressed, this bill can put a lot of people back to work here in Vermont and across the nation," Sanders said.
An even greater investment in infrastructure is needed. More than $2 trillion over five years is the minimum needed to get our roads, bridges, and transit to a "passable" condition, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers. A greater investment also is needed to keep the United States competitive in the global economy. The U.S. now invests just 2.4 percent of its economic output on infrastructure. Europe invests twice that amount, and China invests almost four times.
"Given the infrastructure crisis facing our country in terms of the need to improve our roads, bridges, rail and mass transit, this is a very modest proposal but something that is desperately needed," he said of the $109 billion, two-year Senate bill.