The Vermont Agency of Transportation will have to put $100 million worth of bridge, road and rail projects on hold if Congress does not shore up the federal highway trust fund by Aug. 1.
In all, 38 projects could be affected. The agency was counting on $195 million from the trust fund this year.
The trust fund is running out of money because gas tax revenues have declined; Americans are driving less and using more efficient cars. The national gas tax is 18.4 cents per gallon and has not been increased since 1993.
Brian Searles, the secretary of the Agency of Transportation, says the federal government approved 80 to 100 projects for Vermont in this budget cycle. The state has moved ahead with construction on most of those projects, but now that the federal reimbursement rate could be reduced from 80 percent to as little as 30 percent, Searles said the agency had no choice but to put 38 projects on the back burner.
Most of the state's construction program is already under contract, Searles said, "and we've got to pay those bills." The state treasurer has set aside up to $15 million for current projects.
Searles said the agency will not seek bids for projects that were teed up for construction later this year. "We don't want to take on additional projects if Congress hasn't acted," he said.
Twenty of the 38 projects are bridges; the rail funding is for crossing improvements. The agency has not yet decided which projects will have to wait, he said, but the agency would most likely stall the largest projects.
A project that would likely be on the chopping block is one of the largest bridge projects in the history of Vermont - a $60 million bridge over the West River in the Brattleboro area, he said.
The agency has 800 to 1,000 projects under phases of development at any given time. The state's capital program for rail, roads and bridges is $400 million to $450 million out of a total transportation budget of $685 million this year.
"It's the most aggressive capital program we've ever had," Searles said. The agency was operating under the assumption the state would have the funds to carry out the federal program.