Vermont towns face possible cuts in road funds

| 9/8/2008

Funding for local roads in Vermont could take a direct hit next year if state officials go through with a plan to trim state aid to town highway programs. Struggling transportation revenues are cited for the uncertainty.

With the task of trimming $8 million from the fiscal year 2009 transportation budget, officials are looking at the possibility of a nearly $2 million cut in funding for local projects.

To make matters worse, revenue estimates for the Vermont Agency of Transportation for 2009 have dropped by $15 million since earlier this year.

The funding cut under consideration would force cities and towns to scale back road work. The alternative would be to raise local taxes to help foot the bill.

Advocates for trimming local road funding say the cuts are a viable option because spending in that area does not secure federal matching money.

Critics of cutting town highway programs say the proposal would add to the burden on towns to fix local roads. Others say communities already are delaying projects and new equipment purchases.

The funding crisis for transportation is compounded by fewer federal dollars available for states and escalating costs for road building materials.

The Federal Highway Trust Fund is facing a deficit that could result in the loss of millions for states, if nothing changes.

Another contributing factor for fewer dollars being available for road and bridge work is the cost of construction materials continues to rise. In the past decade, steel, asphalt and concrete costs have skyrocketed.

To make matters worse, escalating costs for gas and diesel are resulting in fewer vehicle miles traveled. As a result, it is eating into the state’s revenue generated from fuel taxes.

The transportation funding issue in Vermont likely will draw a lot of discussion once the 2009 regular session begins in January.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Vermont in 2008, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor