A sweeping federal infrastructure package expected to be signed into law this week will send Vermont an estimated $2.2 billion over the next decade, according to the state's congressional delegation.
The windfall represents the biggest infusion of federal funding in Vermont's history, according to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and is in addition to more than $2 billion headed the state’s way thanks to a pair of federal COVID-19 relief packages passed over the last 18 months.
The latest federal investment, Sanders said in a statement, "will not just repair our roads and bridges, but will help clean up Vermont’s drinking water supply, increase access to affordable, reliable internet service [and] help transition our public transit systems away from fossil fuels."
At a press conference on Monday, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) hailed the bill as a historic investment in the nation’s future — one that will create thousands of new jobs in Vermont.
Asked about the hefty price tag, Leahy added, “Consider the alternative. The alternative is to have our waterways, our water supply, roads and bridges deteriorate, and then cost twice as much to fix them up.”
Sanders and Leahy voted in favor of the infrastructure bill when it passed the Senate nearly three months ago. Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) then threw his support behind it as the $1.2 trillion package finally cleared the House late Friday. President Joe Biden has said he will quickly sign it into law.
Based on the expected funding formula, Vermont will receive an estimated $1.4 billion in federal-aid highway programs and $225 million for bridge replacement and repairs over the next five years. The state has more than 60 bridges and 660 miles of highway in poor condition, according to Welch's office.
The state will also receive an estimated $355 million over five years to improve water infrastructure, and at least $100 million for broadband expansion. An estimated 40,000-plus Vermonters currently lack access to high-speed internet.
“The pandemic has highlighted what we have known in Vermont for a long time – broadband is no longer a luxury service but an essential one,” Welch wrote in a statement. “The more than $100 million that Vermont will receive from this bill will finally help close the digital divide that has left so many of our rural communities and families behind."
Other buckets of money include $21 million to expand the state's electric vehicle charging network, $77 million to improve and expand public transportation, and $28 million to improve Vermont’s airports.
The bill's fate appeared in jeopardy this month after some liberal Democrats threatened to oppose the measure if it did not move in tandem with a separate — and larger — $1.75 trillion social policy bill.
At Monday's press conference, Leahy described the infrastructure bill as long overdue, saying he wished his House counterparts acted on it sooner. "A lot of these contracts could have been issued, and we could have been getting people to work long before now," he said.