On Dec. 2, Sen. Bernie Sanders announced that a five-year, $305 billion transportation bill agreement reached Tuesday by House and Senate negotiators will deliver nearly $1.1 billion to Vermont to improve the state’s roadways.
The passage of the new Federal Transportation Bill, known as the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, promises to bring a total of nearly $1.1 billion to over five years or a $95.4 million increase in investment in Vermont’s transportation system. The FAST Act will provide a level of funding stability that will allow Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) to engage in long-range planning to improve the state’s roadways, public transit and rail systems, said Governor Peter Shumlin.
“Now that Congress has concluded their work on the FAST Act, we can put our people to work on the important business of improving our transportation system here in Vermont,” said Shumlin.
“This is the first time since 2005 that Congress has passed a long-term highway bill and we are pleased with the stability this will bring to our program,” said Transportation Secretary Chris Cole. “The tenacity of our delegation ensured that our funding level was maintained and that we got a multi-year bill that will support our effort to fully participate in our national transportation system.”
At over 1,300 pages, the FAST Act includes a number of formula and discretionary budget items that will require time to analyze, but public transit is a clear winner with a total investment of $47 million or an increase of 19 percent.
“While this legislation does not have everything I would have hoped for, I am pleased it includes more than $1 billion for Vermont’s roads and bridges in the coming years,” Sanders said.
As a member of the committee with primary jurisdiction over federal road and bridge programs, Sanders successfully fought for a funding formula that helps Vermont. The final agreement includes a 5 percent increase in funding for Vermont in the first year and a total increase of 15 percent over five years.
The rail title in the surface transportation act includes discretionary capital funding that Vermont can apply for to upgrade rail infrastructure and some operating funds for new passenger rail services such as extending the Ethan Allen to Burlington and the Vermonter to Montreal. The act also includes a new freight program and more flexibility in how National Highway Performance Program funds can be invested in bridge projects.
The legislation includes several other provisions authored by Sanders that would benefit Vermont, including changes to make Vermont competitive for additional federal funding and lowering the cost of borrowing federal funds for rural projects. Sanders also secured a provision to start the process of creating a national network of recharging stations for electric vehicles.
“The problem isn’t just roads and bridges. Our airports, railways, drinking water and waste systems, harbors and inland waterways, dams and levees, and electric grid are all suffering from a lack of investment,” Sanders said. “While this bill is an important first step, I will continue to fight for legislation to rebuild our nation’s crumbling infrastructure.”
Earlier this year, Sanders introduced the Rebuild America Act, a $1 trillion, five-year plan that would modernize the infrastructure our economy depends on, while creating 13 million decent-paying jobs.