Richmond Bridge Starts Stimulus Spending - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Richmond Bridge Starts Stimulus Spending

Richmond, Vermont - March 9, 2009

Governor Jim Douglas hauled out the barricade to officially close the Bridge Street bridge to traffic. Such construction doesn't usually draw this much attention, but it's the first project in the state to put federal stimulus dollars to work.

"All new steel will be galvanized steel because it doesn't corrode as quickly and we'll have a lot less maintenance in the future," project manager Chris Williams explained.

The $2 million project is the first segment of $126 million that will be pumped into transportation projects over the next year.

"Under the rules of the stimulus, we have to obligate half the money within 120 days," Transportation Secretary David Dill said. "We're advancing projects that were already in the queue, and that list is in front of the legislature now."

Eleven projects have finished or nearly finished the bidding process. Among them are plans for improving or replacing bridges in Barre, Brownington, and East Montpelier, and paving roads in Colchester, Rockingham and Royalton.

Together, the 11 projects use $33.6 million in federal stimulus funding.

Another 20 projects are already scheduled to go out to bid. The full list of the proposed projects for this first phase of stimulus funding can be found online at http://www.aot.state.vt.us/stimulus/documents/Phase1_%2002_23_2009.pdf.

"When you look at the poor condition of the infrastructure in terms of bridges and paving, you really can't go wrong in picking projects," Dill said. "We have lots of places to put the places wisely, create jobs, and improve our infrastructure. This money is not going to waste."

Dill says there are still more needs than funds, but this list is a solid start.

"You've got to keep in mind it's only temporary, it's not going to fix all our infrastructure," he said. "We're working with our legislature to create a bonding package as well. With the stimulus money first, followed by a bonding package, and hopefully a substantive new transportation fund authorization bill from the Congress within year or two, I'm hoping we've turned a corner on transportation infrastructure."

Richmond officials are excited to be first, but local business owners say they're worried about the impact of the bridge's closure. They're hoping for some stimulus of their own to help encourage customers to stay.

Frank Stewart, owner of the Richmond Victoria Inn, said his business was down 29 percent when the bridge closed for a month last year.

"If you can't walk across the bridge to go to the cafe, the bakery, the restaurants, they're just going to detour and not even come here," he said. "I can see the small businesses in town going to lose a lot of money."

Town officials have applied for a $50,000 rural development grant from the U.S. Dept. Agriculture. It would provide marketing support to remind people that even though the bridge is closed, the town is still open for business.

Kate Duffy - WCAX News

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