Town vies for federal stimulus money2/5/09

Funding for paving and sidewalks sought

Feb. 5, 2009

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

Local officials have compiled wish lists filled with transportation projects they hope will be funded by the $885 billion federal economic stimulus package.

Williston’s list includes a new road, sidewalk construction and repaving work totaling $3.9 million.

Vermont expects to receive $120 million to $140 million in federal stimulus money for transportation projects, according to state Agency of Transportation spokesman John Zicconi. But officials also note there will be strings attached, including a requirement that projects begin within a few months.

Uncertainty surrounding the yet-to-be-approved legislation hasn’t stopped Williston and other towns from requesting money for projects that may or may not meet federal requirements. In fact, states have been encouraged to identify eligible projects now so they are ready when the money starts flowing.

“If we didn’t request it, and there is money available, we will have already missed the boat,” said Williston Public Works Director Neil Boyden.

The Senate this week continued debate on the stimulus package proposed by President Barack Obama. Top Democrats voiced support on Tuesday for increasing money designated for transportation projects to $40 billion.

The package also includes money for school construction, renewable energy and a host of other measures designed to promote job creation. In all, Vermont could receive nearly $1 billion.

The Chittenden County Metropolitan Planning Organization is vetting funding requests submitted by towns around Chittenden County. Executive Director Michele Boomhower said CCMPO is looking for projects that can be ready to go within 180 days of receiving funding. Those that can’t are being redlined.

Projects that do meet the criteria will be prioritized based on their importance and how quickly they can begin, she said. Paving work has perhaps the best chance for funding because no permits are required.

The state Agency of Transportation is putting together its own list as well as soliciting funding requests, said spokesman John Zicconi. Already, more than $300 million worth of projects has been identified.

Because the proposed legislation requires money not spent within a time frame ranging from 90 to 120 days to be returned and redistributed to other states, he said the agency is casting a wary eye on projects with outstanding permit and right-of-way issues.

“If we’re going to be in a use it or lose it situation, we can’t gamble with that money,” Zicconi said.

Boyden has proposed spending $611,000 in stimulus money on repaving projects. They include fresh asphalt on Oak Hill and Old Stage roads as well as Marshall Avenue.

Sidewalk construction costing an estimated $1.3 million is also included on Williston’s list. The projects include new bike and pedestrian paths along stretches of Vermont 2A and Mountain View Road.

Local voters years ago approved bonds to fund the Mountain View project. Work has been delayed by problems with obtaining rights-of-way from residents.

“If we can get federal stimulus money, why not?” Boyden said. “We don’t have to borrow money and pay it back.”

The most expensive item on Williston’s list is a new street called Trader Lane that would run from U.S. 2 to Marshall Avenue. The $1.9 million project would be part of a network of long-planned grid streets the town hopes will promote traffic flow and economic development around Taft Corners.

Except for the Mountain View sidewalk, which was planned for this year, most of the projects on Williston’s list would take years to complete without the federal funding, Boyden said.

It remains to be seen whether Williston’s proposals will survive the vetting process. Boyden said the CCMPO has already expressed doubts about the Trader Lane project because it is not an existing federal or state highway and thus not normally eligible for funding.

But Boyden argues that the street would take traffic off U.S. 2, a road that does qualify for federal funding. “It also stimulates growth in Taft Corners because you have new streets and so you can have new development,” he said.

Boyden is unapologetic about seeking every possible penny in stimulus money, even if it pushes the limit of what’s allowed in the stimulus bill.

“Why are we spending local money when there’s federal money available for free?” he said. “So I’d rather be chastised for asking for it than I would for not. I work for the local government, not the federal government.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

 

PROPOSED PROJECTS

Here are the projects town officials hope to fund with federal stimulus money:

Sidewalks

•    Vermont 2A from River Cove Road to the Essex Junction town line

•     Mountain View Road between North Williston and Old Stage roads

•     Vermont 2A between Taft Corners and Zephyr Road

Roads

•    A new street named Trader Lane running from U.S. 2 to Marshall Avenue

Repaving

•    Oak Hill Road between U.S. 2 and Old Creamery Road

•     Mountain View Road between Brennan Woods and Old Stage Road

•     Marshall Avenue from Vermont 2A to Four Seasons Garden Center