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Vermont officials grow concerned over federal transportation funding, make contingency plan

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MONTPELIER, Vermont — Amid mounting concerns that Congress won't pass a long-term federal transportation bill this year, Vermont state officials have developed a contingency plan to make sure projects stay on schedule.

The Senate Public Works committee unanimously supported a plan this week to allocate $278 billion to fund transportation projects over the next six years. Vermont Transportation Secretary Sue Minter said Vermont would receive $1.3 billion under that legislation, Vermont Public Radio reported (http://bit.ly/1JpJemH).

But now that the bill is set to go to the Senate Finance committee, there is no agreement about how to pay for it.

Minter said that if Congress doesn't pass a transportation bill by the end of July, the roughly $6 million of federal money spent every week on road and bridge projects will be put on hold. She said her agency plans to borrow money from the state's cash flow account to keep these projects on schedule.

"We know that we can carry that forward having the state treasury pay those which would otherwise be federal dollars for a short term," she said. "I think if that went on for a number of months we'd have to think about other scenarios."

Congress approved the last long-term transportation bill in 2005. Since then, 33 short-term extensions have been passed, a move Minter said has been bad for public policy.

"It means that we're all doing short-term thinking, and what we need to be doing isn't just limping forward and duct taping our system back together. We need to be thinking big about the future. We need an infrastructure for the 21st century," she said.

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