By Anne Galloway, VTDigger.org
The Vermont Agency of Transportation will have to put $100 million worth of bridge, road and rail projects on hold if Congress does not shore up the federal highway trust fund by Aug. 1.
In all, 38 projects could be affected. The agency was counting on $195 million from the trust fund this year. The trust fund is running out of money because gas tax revenues have declined; Americans are driving less and using more efficient cars. The national gas tax, of 18.4 cents per gallon, has not been increased since 1993.
Brian Searles, the secretary of the Agency of Transportation, says the federal government approved 80 to 100 projects for Vermont in this budget cycle. The state has moved ahead with construction on most of those projects, but now that the federal reimbursement rate could be reduced from 80 percent to as little as 30 percent, Searles said the agency had no choice but to put 38 projects on the back burner.
Most of the state’s construction program is already under contract, Searles said, “and we’ve got to pay those bills.” The state treasurer has set aside up to $15 million for current projects. Searles said the agency will not seek bids for projects that were teed up for construction later this year. Of those 38 projects, 20 are bridges; the rail funding is for crossing improvements.
The state’s capital program for rail, roads and bridges is close to $450 million out of a transportation budget of $685 million. “It’s the most aggressive capital program we’ve ever had,” Searles said. On Monday, July 14, the Vermont Agency of Transportation provided a list of Vermont transportation projects that are in jeopardy if Congress fails to reauthorize the Highway Trust Fund by the end of the month.
Local projects include: Two Rutland City bridges that span the Otter Creek, the Ripley Road and Dorr Drive bridges; Ludlow and Clarendoin rail crossings; and bridges in Shrewsbury, Cavendish, Castleton and Pittsford. A stopgap measure has been proposed and is gaining traction in Congress. House and Senate committees are drafting plans for a short-term fix. No long-term measures are on the table this session.