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November 26, 2019 4:45 PM, EST

FHWA Issues $500,000 in Emergency Relief Funds to Vermont

A swollen Winooski River flows past farm fields April 16, 2019, in Middlesex, Vt. Now, the state is receiving help after heavy rain and high winds ravaged roads and bridges Oct. 31 and Nov. 1. (Lisa Rathke/Associated Press)

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Vermont will receive $500,000 in federal funding to repair roads and bridges that have been damaged by heavy rain and flooding.

The U.S. Department of Transportation announced Nov. 20 that the Federal Highway Administration will make the “quick release” emergency relief funds available. The funds, which were requested by the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans), will be used to reimburse the agency and municipalities for repairs that were necessary to reopen essential federal-aid routes.

Vermont Agency of Transportation logo

Specifically, the funds will finance infrastructure that was damaged by a storm that occurred between Oct. 31 and Nov. 1. The heavy rains and high winds caused slope failures and washed out pavement and culverts, forcing some roads to close.

Wayne Symonds, highway division director for VTrans, described the storm as the biggest one the state has seen since Tropical Storm Irene struck in 2011.

“It was pretty significant,” Symonds said. “In some areas in the northwest, we got 5 inches of rain in six hours. In that area, that was close to a 500-year flood event for some of the local watersheds and a well over 100-year flood event for a lot of the area in the northwest.”

The storm affected Addison, Chittenden, Franklin, Lamoille, Orleans and Washington counties.

Symonds said Vermont transportation officials have estimated damages on federal-aid routes and state highways top $5 million. He said two of the biggest losses were a ruined bridge on state Route 105, a major east-west corridor in the northern part of the state, and a culvert spanning 11 feet in diameter that supported a ramp to Interstate 89.

DOT’s emergency relief program distributes funding for federally eligible highways and bridges that have been damaged by natural disasters. The agency has described quick release funds as a “down payment” on the costs of short-term repairs as the state continues to assess long-term needs.

Nason

“These emergency funds will help pay for essential repairs to roads and bridges in Vermont damaged by recent storms,” Federal Highway Administrator Nicole Nason said. “The federal aid provided today represents the first installment of our commitment to restoring transportation infrastructure in the state.”

As VTrans officials continue to repair damaged infrastructure, they also are maintaining the system for winter weather. Symonds said VTrans’ snowplows started hitting the roads not long after the heavy rainstorm on Halloween.

According to a notice from Gov. Phil Scott’s office issued Nov. 25, repairs on some of the most heavily damaged infrastructure may take up to two years.

“The state has placed a high priority on emergency management planning, particularly since Tropical Storm Irene in 2011,” Transportation Secretary Joe Flynn said. “We were prepared for this, we activated swiftly, and our crews out in the field worked diligently to get roadways reopened as quickly as possible.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency recently completed a damage assessment of public local roads to determine if Vermont qualifies for a Public Assistance disaster declaration. Those funds would help reimburse municipalities for 75% of public infrastructure repairs after the storm. Scott will make a request for that declaration in the coming weeks.

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