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VTDigger: Welch Seeks Infrastructure Improvement Ideas

January 27, 2017
In The News

President Trump and congressional leaders appear willing to support infrastructure investments in rural areas and Vermont could benefit, according to Rep. Peter Welch.

Welch, speaking Friday to regional planners in Montpelier, asked what infrastructure needs they might have that could be paid for through a national infrastructure improvement program.

“This is an area Trump has a real desire to do something ambitious,” the Democrat said.

Rural voters put Trump into office, Welch said, and the president looks eager to repay their support. It remains unclear, however, how Trump or Congress intend to pay for the investments, Welch said.

But should funding arise, Vermont’s interests are closely aligned with those of “rural America,” Welch said.

“I think we’ve got a compelling case to make” for significant infrastructure investment in Vermont. A national program, he said, could win approval in part because many of his Republican colleagues face the same challenges.

Welch said in addition to the planners that he would be contacting Vermont mayors for ideas as well.

Planners at Friday’s meeting said they had hundreds of millions of dollars worth of infrastructure needs in their communities.

Those range from sidewalks and roads to wastewater treatment plants to municipal buildings and broadband internet access.

Many of Vermont’s municipal buildings were built in the mid-1800s, said Adam Lougee, executive director of the Addison County Regional Planning Commission, “and they haven’t had a lot of work done to them since.”

Municipal buildings across Vermont — such as town halls, libraries and similar facilities — could use numerous upgrades, Lougee said, such as better energy efficiency measures and improved access.

In putting some of these improvements in place, Vermont municipalities could use assistance from their Congressional delegation to make sure grants and other federal funding doesn’t come with onerous strings attached, Lougee said.

Often, federal aid requires towns to build larger or more expensive facilities than they require, and relaxing the rules to avoid unnecessary investments would help put limited federal funds to their best use, Lougee said.

Along the same lines, small towns often have difficulty raising matching funds for large federal programs, said Chris Campany, Windham Regional Planning Commission’s executive director.

Infrastructure improvement are need across the country, in liberal and conservative districts, which could benefit Vermont.

“I think it’s going to help us to acknowledge that (infrastructure needs are) a problem in Democratic Vermont as much as in Republican Oklahoma,” Welch said.

Broadband access for rural communities is another idea likely to see support from his Republican colleagues as well, Welch said. Trump’s new Federal Communications Chairman, Ajit Pai, hails from Kansas, and he shares Welch’s goal of improving internet access for rural areas, Welch said.