By Emma Cotton/VTDigger
Over the next five years, Vermont will be eligible to receive $37 million in federal funding for transportation projects that would make the state’s infrastructure more resilient to a changing climate, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced Friday.
The new program is designed to “help communities protect their transportation infrastructure from extreme weather and improve routes that first responders and firefighters need during disasters,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a written statement.
Vermont is set to receive $7 million this fiscal year from the funding package, called the Promoting Resilient Operations for Transformative, Efficient, and Cost-Saving Transportation (PROTECT) Formula Program, part of President Joe Biden’s federal infrastructure law.
Officials at Vermont’s Agency of Transportation “will review the project eligibility requirements in order to evaluate and prioritize projects” for the funding, Joe Flynn, secretary of the agency, said in a statement.
The guidance from the feds, released Friday, “is the key document we have been waiting for to begin the process of developing our spending plan for this funding,” Flynn said.
A total of $7.3 billion will be available to states so they can prepare for extreme weather events, such as wildfires, flooding and excessive heat.
The announcement comes after an intense heat wave threatened roadways, railways and airplane runways in parts of the U.S. and Europe earlier this month.
In Vermont, heavy rainfall is likely the most significant danger to roads and other transportation infrastructure. In 2011, Tropical Storm Irene damaged 200 bridges, 1,000 culverts and 2,400 road segments in the state.
In August of 2021, flash floods soaked the southern half of the state, causing $5 million worth of damage, including $1.6 million in damage to state roads.
Average yearly precipitation in the state has already increased by 21% since 1900, according to the Vermont Climate Assessment.
“Extreme weather events such as droughts and floods are expected to continue to increase with climate change,” it found. “Vermont experiences 2.4 more days of heavy precipitation than in the 1960s, most often in summer.”
Chris Campany, director of the Windham Regional Commission and a member of the Vermont Climate Council, said he hopes the federal funding will help towns implement their individual hazard mitigation plans, many of which include transportation planning.
Installing appropriately sized culverts, in particular, would be an important move for Vermont towns, he said.
“That may not sound very sexy, but they’re absolutely critical,” he said.
Culverts can get plugged up during floods, effectively creating dams, which pose a risk to housing and infrastructure downstream.
Eligible projects include those that focus on “resilience planning, making resilience improvements to existing transportation assets and evacuation routes, and addressing at-risk highway infrastructure,” according to the U.S. Department of Transportation announcement.
“States are encouraged to work with regional and local partner organizations to prioritize transportation and emergency response improvements, as well as address vulnerabilities,” the department said.