WASHINGTON, Nov. 9 - A Senate panel today approved and sent to the full Senate a two-year transportation funding bill to repair crumbling roads, bridges and railroads and fund other transportation projects.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a member of the Environment and Public Works committee, voted for the measure that included provisions he added to help Vermont.
Sanders said the bill would boost Vermont's overall share of highway funds and increase the state's return on the federal gasoline taxes that Vermonters pay. "I am very pleased that under this bill Vermont will get back more than before for each dollar Vermonters spend in federal gas taxes."
A Sanders amendment would lift a $100 million per state cap on an emergency road fund for states recovering from extreme natural disasters like Tropical Storm Irene. Under his provision, the Federal Highway Administration emergency relief program could cover up to 100 percent of the cost of road repairs. "When disasters strike on the scale of an Irene, the federal government needs to be there for states like Vermont," Sanders said.
He also worked on an amendment to require the U.S. Department of Transportation to improve nationwide access to electric charging stations for motorists who drive pollution-cutting hybrid vehicles.
Working with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), another Sanders provision in the bill would improve the movement of freight trains across the United States border with Canada.
Overall, the bill would give states more flexibility in choosing what kinds of projects best meet their needs. It also would streamline 90 separate highway programs, increase funding for a federal transportation loan guarantee program from $122 million a year to $1 billion a year, while reducing the share of money states have to contribute to projects.
Sanders called the measure a much-needed step forward but said Congress should invest even more to rebuild the country's crumbling infrastructure and create good-paying construction jobs.
"I see the need every time I go home," Sanders told colleagues on the committee before the vote. "Just under a third of Vermont's bridges are considered ‘structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.' And 36 percent of our federal-aid roads are in need of major repairs. And that was before Tropical Strom Irene caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damages."