Thursday August 1, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- Three Windham County transportation projects -- with a total cost of $22 million in this fiscal year alone -- are benefiting from a bond sale announced Wednesday by state officials.

The state's $10.3 million bond sale, in addition to providing cash directly for road and bridge upgrades in Vermont, also will leverage more than $64 million in federal funding.

Among the 17 projects receiving funding are the I-91 bridge replacement over Route 30 in Bratttleboro as well as replacement of bridges on Route 100 and Route 30 in Jamaica.

"Both of those in Jamaica are (Tropical Storm) Irene-related," said Lenny LeBlanc, Vermont Agency of Transportation chief financial officer.

The bond sale is long-term borrowing for a state that had faced a shortfall in transportation funding for fiscal year 2014. Officials said the bonds will be repaid in "annual level amounts" over the next 20 years.

Coming up with more state funding also was necessary so that Vermont could land much-needed federal transportation dollars.

"Bonding is a valuable tool that we use to leverage federal funds for major projects," state Transportation Secretary Brian Searles said in a statement issued with the bond announcement.

"By providing the state match, it allows us the flexibility to take full advantage of available federal funding to complete important transportation infrastructure projects sooner rather than later."

All 17 projects funded by the bond sale and federal money are either under way or will begin during the current fiscal year, officials said. A breakdown provided by LeBlanc showed the local benefit:

-- Though the Brattleboro I-91 project will cost $60 million over several years, there is $17 million budgeted for fiscal 2014. Bond-sale proceeds will account for $1.7 million of that total, with associated federal funding accounting for the remaining $15.3 million.

-- The Jamaica Route 30 bridge project is budgeted for $2.5 million in fiscal 2014. Bond proceeds will cover $500,000, and there is another $2 million in federal funding.

-- The cost breakdown is the same for $2.5 million in spending budgeted for the Route 100 project in Jamaica.

Also benefiting are projects in Bennington, Brandon, Brighton, Bristol, Cambridge, Hancock, Hartford, Milton, Montpelier, Morristown, Plymouth, Rutland and Windsor.

State Treasurer Beth Pearce said the sale of special obligation transportation infrastructure bonds is "an important tool for securing funds for badly needed repairs."

"Funds raised through the bond sale allow the state to match federal fund requirements for 17 projects, six of the projects associated with Tropical Storm Irene," Pearce said in a prepared statement.

"Thanks to our excellent bond ratings, investors are eager to buy Vermont bonds," Pearce added. "In turn, the state can keep interest rates for borrowing as low as possible and save taxpayers money."

The state Legislature wielded another tool for raising transportation cash during this year's session, voting to impose a new sales tax that resulted in gas prices rising by about 6 cents per gallon on May 1.

State Rep. Mollie Burke, a Brattleboro Progressive Democrat who sits on the House Transportation Committee, was a defender of that tax hike.

On Wednesday, Burke said efforts to find more transportation funding -- whether by tax increases, bond sales or other methods -- are critically important to driver safety.

"We have to have a program here. We can't just sort of dillydally around, and we have to prioritize," Burke said. "We're not building any new capacity. We're not building more interstate. We're just trying to maintain what we have."

She added that state officials and legislators are working hard to ensure that the most-needed upgrades get funding first.

"Things really are done in a very transparent way," she said.

Mike Faher can be reached at mfaher@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.