By Sarah Mearhoff/VTDigger
With Congress’s long-awaited passage of a $1 trillion nationwide infrastructure package, Vermont is set to receive about $2.2 billion to invest in roads, bridges, broadband, sewer systems and more.
After months of negotiations, the U.S. House late Friday, Nov. 5, voted 228-206 to give final approval to the package meant to revitalize and rebuild the nation’s aging infrastructure. The U.S. Senate passed the bill about two months ago, and it now heads to President Joe Biden’s desk for his signature.
Vermont’s independent U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders lauded the state’s total allotment from the package as “one of the largest infusions of federal money into Vermont in history.”
“The federal investment will not just repair our roads and bridges, but will help clean up Vermont’s drinking water supply, increase access to affordable, reliable internet service, help transition our public transit systems away from fossil fuels and create many good-paying jobs,” Sanders said in a written statement.
In a 2019 report card, which graded states on the quality of their transportation and water infrastructure, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave Vermont a C grade. The Green Mountain State’s highest marks were C-plus for roads and bridges, and lowest were D-plus for stormwater and sewer systems.
According to breakdowns from Vermont’s congressional delegation, most of Vermont’s $2.2 billion will go toward transportation: $1.4 billion for federal-aid highway programs, and $225 million for bridge repairs and replacements over the course of five years.
Another $83 million will go toward public transportation expansion and improvements, and $21 million to expand access to electric vehicle charging stations.
Vermont also will get at least $100 million dedicated to expanding and improving broadband access statewide, and $355 million for water infrastructure.
Now, with the money assured, it’s up to state lawmakers to divvy up those piles to fund specific projects.
In a celebratory statement on Saturday, Republican Gov. Phil Scott said his administration “will be ready to make sure this money supports our ongoing work to keep Vermont moving forward.”
“With additional investment in roads and bridges, broadband, water and electric vehicle infrastructure, this bill fits very well with the transformational work already underway in Vermont,” Scott said. “We are making progress in these areas, but there is more to do, and this new funding will make sure we can recover stronger than ever before, increasing economic equity and opportunity for working families and kids in every corner of our state.”
Scott also applauded Congress and the White House for finally reaching a bipartisan consensus, “which is something we desperately needed to see, as well.”
“We know the majority of Americans support infrastructure investments and seeing bipartisan work — even though it was difficult — to get this done shows we can still unite around common goals,” he said.
Vermont’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, in a statement Saturday, celebrated the “once-in-a-generation investment,” but also chastised his colleagues for taking as long as they did to reach an agreement.
“Final enactment should not have taken this long,” Leahy said. “Finally the House has now taken action, and the president can sign this bill into law. It is time for us to get to work and get shovels in the ground in Vermont and across the country.”
With the infrastructure bill put to rest, Leahy said Congress can focus on passing a domestic budget — a bill of massive importance and heated debate, in which Leahy and Sanders are major negotiators.
The package has been on hold after weeks of stalemate — namely between progressives and moderates — over a final dollar amount, as well as proposed social programs such as paid family leave. Sanders, in particular, has been making headlines for his role in negotiations as he publicly spars with moderate Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin, of West Virginia, and Kyrsten Sinema, of Arizona.
“For too long, we have neglected critical domestic priorities,” said Leahy, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee.
“The time for dallying is over,” he said. “Let’s get to work.”