VTrans spending plan headed for record high - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

VTrans spending plan headed for record high

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MONTPELIER, Vt. -

Year after year, inspectors conclude that a significant portion of Vermont's transportation infrastructure is in "very poor" condition. That figure currently sits at about 22 percent. But legislators say the governor's promise of more cash should help pump the brakes on declining conditions.

"In the governor's speech he gave us 33 million reasons to smile. That's a great increase and a well-needed increase," said Rep. Pat Brennan, R-Colchester.

Vermont is poised to spend $686 million on transportation in the next fiscal year which begins in July-- the most it ever has.

House members working closest with the transportation budget say extra millions for paving and bridge repair will go a long way.

"And those are two of the areas where we need the most work," Brennan said.

Legislators say there's no reason to consider raising the state gas tax again, but part of last year's hike will still kick in come July. The gas tax will increase another 2 percent in July and the diesel tax will go up another cent, generating some of the new money.

Of the $33 million in new funds, about $24 million are federal dollars. Along with paving, those dollars will be spent on about 100 bridge repairs, and modernizing Vermont's Western rail-line between Rutland and Burlington.

"I'm very excited about that, having passenger rail coming sooner rather than later from Burlington to New York City," said Sen. Dick Mazza, D-Grand Isle County.

Mazza chairs the Senate's Transportation Committee and says he's also encouraged by the planned addition of more electric vehicle charging stations. But he says with each new electric vehicle on the road, gas-based funding takes another hit-- Vermont may not be able to switch to a mileage-based system on its own.

"We can't do this on our own," Mazza said. "We need federal assistance."

Along with all the new spending designed to tackle long-term challenges, lawmakers say they also plan on setting aside cash to handle problems caused by this winter's wild weather.

Legislators say about $1.3 million should refill a drained maintenance fund and cover a large bump in salt usage.

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