The Vermont House of Representatives approved a $612 million transportation budget late in March that prioritizes paving, bridges and roadway safety projects.
Wayne Symonds, highway division director for the Vermont Agency of Transportation, said the budget approved March 21 closely resembles the one the department recommended on behalf of Gov. Phil Scott. VTrans’ proposed budget set aside $104 million for paving and $73.4 million for traffic safety projects.
Symonds said Vermont’s winter weather strains roads, creating the need for re-pavement projects. According to the National Weather Service, the Burlington area received 23.5 inches of snow in December alone.
“Our pavement condition numbers are trending in the right direction. The challenge is always when we have winters like this one, where we have multiple freeze-thaw events, [which] take a big toll on our pavement conditions,” Symonds said. “We work to try to make sure that we spend the money as best we can across the assets, trying to make sure we keep up with the demands. I think we have the same challenges as other states, which is our aging infrastructure and Mother Nature wanting to work against us.”
The proposed budget sets aside nearly $100 million for bridges. VTrans’ recommended budget included $24.5 for interstate bridges, $57.6 million for state highway bridges and $13.3 million for town highway bridges.
The American Road and Transportation Builders Association classified 5.2% of Vermont’s bridges as structurally deficient. The group published a study in January revealing that, over the past 10 years, some 240 bridges were built and 149 have undergone major reconstruction in Vermont. Symonds said the state has made “historic gains” in improving bridge condition. “Ten years ago, [it was] really bad. Now, we’re at the point where it needs to just be maintained, but every year it costs more and more,” said William Smith, lobbyist for the Vermont Truck and Bus Association. “A bridge that was $3 million 10 years ago is $10 million now. The numbers just keep going up and up.”
Smith explained that fiscal 2019's proposed budget is about $2 million less than 2018's. He said the proposed transportation budget is in line with the state’s trim general budget, which both mirror the governor’s call for no increased spending.
“It’s a pretty lean budget. You’re not going to see very many new roads coming online in Vermont,” Smith said. “It’s a matter of fixing up what we have.”
The proposed budget also dedicates funding to park-and-ride facilities and bike and pedestrian trails.
The budget moved through the House as part of a transportation bill labeled H. 917. The funding plan now moves to the state Senate. Symonds said there is no fixed date for senators to finish their deliberation, but he said he hopes the bill will make it to the governor’s desk by the middle of May.
“Our legislative committees are very focused on prioritizing the projects that will maximize the ability for Vermonters to engage in commerce,” Smith said. “Our transportation committees have always been good stewards of the public’s money.”