BENNINGTON -- The new Welcome Center on Route 279 may bear the name of the late senator who secured its funding.
Former Bennington State House Reps. Joseph Krawczyk Jr. and Richard Pembroke asked the Select Board Monday to draft a letter to the Vermont Agency of Transportation recommending the Welcome Center be named after Sen. Jim Jeffords, who died Aug. 18 at the age of 80. A Rutland native, Jeffords served as Vermont's delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives from 1975 to 1989, then was a U.S. senator until 2007.
"My first experience with Jim was when we were seeking funding for Route 279 in New York, knowing we couldn't get the state of Vermont to fund it, and we didn't think that New York would want to," said Pembroke. "In fact, they said they didn't want to contribute to a project that was going into Vermont."
Today, Route 279, commonly called "The Bennington Bypass," has a leg connecting Route 7 in New York to Route 7 in Vermont. The most recent addition connects Vermont Route 7 to Vermont Route 9. The Welcome Center, built in 2012, is on the west side. The goal behind the routes was to take heavy truck traffic out of the downtown area. It has been lauded by some for doing this, and criticized by others for harming local business.
There were five alternatives for the project, Pembroke said. "The alternative that would please the (Federal Highway Administration) the most was the one that went a mile and a half into New York.
Pembroke, who was the chairman of the Vermont House Transportation Committee, went to see Jeffords about securing federal funding for the project.
"Things worked out and he was able to get the full funding for that portion of the project," said Pembroke. "He was always very cooperative with anything we wanted him to do. He was supportive of rail, and a great gentleman."
Jeffords was also able to secure funding for the Welcome Center itself.
"He was a true friend and a trusted friend, and he did tremendous work for the state of Vermont," said Pembroke.
Krawczyk said they wanted to name the Welcome Center after Jeffords sooner, but Vermont policy is that state-owned buildings cannot be named after living people.
"Now that he's gone, I think it's appropriate that we name the Welcome Center after Senator Jim Jeffords," said Krawczyk.
The board voted to draft a letter that, when approved by the full board, would be given to Krawczyk and Pembroke to take to the Agency of Transportation. Pembroke said it might have to be run through the Department of Libraries first, but he wasn't sure.