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Vt. Eyes Waiving Road Match Rule

Fri December 05, 2008 - Northeast Edition

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) Vermont’s congressional delegation is planning to introduce legislation that would allow states to carry out federally funded transportation projects without having to chip in the usual 10 percent to 20 percent of the cost.

The move is designed to help boost the national economy and help Vermont and other states improve roads and bridges, support public transit and upgrade rail lines at no additional cost to the federal government.

“Waiving the match will let [states] get the projects under way without further eroding their finances,’’ said U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt. “It’s a very sensible idea.’’

Currently the state has plans on the books next year for 47 transportation projects that will cost approximately $120 million. Under current rules the state would be expected to pick up about 20 percent of that cost.

It’s unclear how the proposed legislation would affect those projects, said Vermont Transportation Agency spokesman John Zicconi.

“There’s a lot of moving parts right now. Where it all lands and where the rules are going to be is uncertain,’’ Zicconi said.

Welch and Sens. Patrick Leahy, a Democrat, and independent Bernie Sanders are working together to write the proposed legislation, which would most likely be considered when the new Congress convenes in early January.

Welch said the delegation wants to waive the match for projects that have been approved, but not yet started through September 2009. The hope is the match would also be waived on projects undertaken through a national economic stimulus package that Congress is expected to consider when it convenes in January.

The goal would be to have legislation ready for signing when President-elect Barack Obama takes office on Jan. 20, Welch said.

“By allowing the free flow of federal funds to these projects, Vermonters will see improved roads and bridges, as well as additional jobs,’’ Leahy said. “With tight state budgets all over the country, Congress has a responsibility to enable the completion of projects that are already lined up and ready to go.’’

The concept was first proposed to Welch in October by state Sen. Susan Bartlett, D-Lamoille, the chair of the state Senate finance committee, who met with Welch and other economists at the Statehouse.

Welch went back to Washington and started working on the idea with his Vermont colleagues.

“Our nation’s state and local governments are currently taking in far less revenue due to falling property values and reduced sales tax revenues, and also face higher borrowing costs in credit markets,’’ Sander said. “These cities and towns are on the front line of our economic crisis and they would be the first to benefit from reduced matching requirements.’’

Zicconi said that some of the Vermont projects due for construction next year include phase one of the Route 2 reconstruction and widening between Cabot and Danville, the replacement of a Winooski River bridge on Route 2 in East Montpelier and the rehabilitation of 4.4 miles Route 143 in Springfield.

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