On Tuesday, November 1, the U.S. Senate approved a transportation budget bill that includes crucial cost waivers included in the bill by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), which Governor Shumlin and others consider to be crucial to the repair and rebuilding of roads and bridges damaged by Tropical Storm Irene.
The vote on the bill was 69 to 30.
The bill also includes Leahy’s truck weight provisions for Vermont, to move heavy trucks from smaller state roads, including roads crossing through the downtowns of several Vermont communities.
Following is a summary of the Leahy waiver provisions:
Leahy worked to add $1.9 billion to the depleted Federal Highway Administration emergency fund, upon which Vermont will depend for help in repairing and rebuilding roads washed away or damaged by Irene-related flooding. The emergency highway account today is almost empty. Also vital to Vermont are several cost-waiver provisions Leahy added to the bill, which would save Vermont millions of state tax dollars by allowing Vermont to:
• Be reimbursed for more than the current $100 million per-state limit on federal emergency highway repair funds; Vermont’s repair costs are expected to exceed the current cap;
• Receive 100 percent reimbursement for permanent repairs if total damage is more than double the state’s annual federal highway funding;
• Be reimbursed 100 percent for emergency repairs beyond the current limit of 180 days.
Governor Shumlin has called the Leahy waivers a top priority for Vermont among many disaster-relief steps that are now pending before Congress.
The bill also includes another high priority for Vermont: Leahy’s legislation to permanently move heavy trucks off state secondary roads and onto the state’s Interstate highways. Leahy’s provision will help Vermont businesses and communities struggling due to the large number of state and local roads heavily damaged during the flooding disaster. Leahy’s Vermont provision is paired with a similar change for Maine, authored by Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine).
Leahy is number two on the Senate Appropriations Committee and also a senior member of its Transportation Subcommittee, which handled the writing of the bill.
The House is several steps behind the Senate in acting on their counterpart bill. The transportation subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee approved their version of the bill on Sept. 8. It does not include the provisions added by Leahy to the Senate’s bill. The House bill goes next to the full Appropriations Committee and then to the House floor. At some point, once the Senate and House have approved their separate bills, the differences will be ironed out in either a formal or informal House-Senate conference among the appropriators.