Sanders Statement at 'Vermonter' Groundbreaking

St. Albans, Vt. - The United States, today, faces the worst set of economic crises since the Great Depression. Millions of people have lost their jobs. We have a record-breaking deficit. The middle class is disappearing and the gap between the very rich and everybody else is growing wider.

Today, as most Americans know, our rail lines, roads, bridges, culverts, water systems, wastewater plants, airports and schools need an enormous amount of work. These projects should be a top priority. For every $1 billion in federal funds invested in infrastructure, 47,500 jobs can be created or sustained.  Let’s do it. Let’s put Americans to work rebuilding our country.

In Vermont our infrastructure needs an enormous amount of work. Our rail system is totally inadequate and we must move to replace our Civil War-era train lines with high-speed rail. We are making progress. We have secured $50 million through the federal stimulus program to improve “The Vermonter” rail line, which winds its way from St. Albans, Vt. to Washington, D.C. The improvements to “The Vermonter” are part of $160 million awarded to Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut to improve rail service between New Haven, Conn. and St. Albans, Vt.

The upgrades of “The Vermonter” will include:

  • Replacing 1.5 million feet of rail with continuously welded rail; replacing 95,000 rail ties; cleaning the ballast and adding an additional 19,500 tons of ballast; upgrading all signal lighting; adding new warning devices to 49 crossings; and rebuilding 53 crossings and strengthening bridges.
  • Rail has begun arriving and installation started.  Four cars of rail which equates to 8 miles of track are expected to be installed this year and signal work will soon begin, work which will continue through the winter months.
  • The project, which is scheduled to be completed no later than the fall of 2012, will slice nearly a half-hour from travel time in Vermont (27 minutes), alone, and improve reliability to a 90 percent on-time performance
  • Train speeds will increased to 59 mph north of White River Junction and boosted to 79 mph from White River Junction to the state line.
  • The upgrades will also improve freight capacity that will create additional opportunities

That’s a good start, but much more needs to be done.

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. For extended service to Montreal the only rail improvements needed are from St. Albans to the border.  We are also working on resolving a few border security issues to make the service a reality.

Let’s not stop there, however. Updating our antiquated rail lines is just one example of what we have to focus on.  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. Here 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 or nearly 1,000 bridges-- are either “structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.”  Of those, nearly 500 have structural deficiencies.  Progress is being made. We will improve 22 bridges in Vermont through the federal stimulus program. We must repair the remainder sooner or later. Why not now?

Throughout our history, America has led the way on transportation and communications innovations: a network of canals, a transcontinental railroad, Interstate highway systems and rural electrification have kept Americans connected and the economy humming. These advances have been the envy of the world. Sadly, that is no longer the case and we are losing ground to international competitors. 

On rail alone, the Chinese invested $186 billion from 2006 through 2009.  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– far more than in the United States.
 
As Congress reconvenes for a “lame duck” session and makes plans for the next session, it’s vitally important for the future of our country that we get our priorities right.  In my view, lowering our federal deficit and creating millions of jobs rebuilding our deteriorating infrastructure is more important, far more important, than giving huge tax breaks to the wealthiest people in our country.
  
As many Vermonters know, the Bush tax breaks will expire at the end of this year. The debate in Congress centers on whether these tax cuts should be extended to the top 2 percent -- households fortunate enough to be earning at least $250,000 a year -- or just be provided for the middle class. For people earning at least $1 million, continuing these tax breaks means an average tax reduction of more than $100,000 each year. 

At a time when the top 1 percent of Americans already earns 23.5 percent of all income -- more income than the bottom half of the entire country combined -- I think providing $700 billion in tax breaks over the next decade to those who don’t need it is absolutely irresponsible.

When Congress reconvenes, I will introduce legislation to use this $700 billion in a much more sensible way. 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 -- exactly the sort of essential projects that we are doing when we upgradie rail lines like “The Vermonter.”