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Vermont Earns 'C' For Quality Of Infrastructure

Taylor Dobbs

If states were graded for their work on infrastructure, Vermont would earn a C. That’s according to a report released by the American Society of Civil Engineers that recently assessed the state’s roads, bridges, dams, landfills and waterworks.  For comparison, the nation as a whole earned a D+.

While Vermont has made progress with roads and bridges, the report indicates waste-water and drinking water infrastructure is still woefully outdated and underfunded.

Amanda Hanaway-Carrente, a Vermont civil engineer who helped write the report, says taxpayers and lawmakers need to be better informed about infrastructure so they can make smarter choices regarding funding and upkeep. “Obviously not everybody is excited about a C report card, but the problem is we’re right now as a country dealing with aging infrastructure.”

"Obviously not everybody is excited about a C report card but the problem is we're right now as a country dealing with aging infrastructure." - Civil engineer Amanda Hanaway-Carrente

She says the first time the report was released in 2011 Vermont roads earned a D+, and bridges a C-. This year, she says both areas showed improvement. “Vermont ranks 28th in the nation in state highway performance and cost effectiveness," she says. "The state moved up 14 spots, from 42nd place in the previous year, so we have improved dramatically in that category.”

She says those gains are directly linked to increased funding - federal money that came into the state after Topical Storm Irene, the state’s development of an Infrastructure Bond Fund as well as a boost in the state gas tax.  

But unlike roads and bridges that people frequently drive on, Hanaway-Carrente says it’s harder to get the public to invest in infrastructure it can’t see, like buried water and sewer pipes. Citing the report, she says, “to address Vermont’s clean water needs, $156 million of additional funds are needed annually to do waste water and storm water sewer repairs and retrofits and facility upgrades. I mean, that’s a huge amount of money that’s needed to just keep up with the infrastructure we have now,” says Hanaway-Carrente.

Rutland Mayor Christopher Louras understands that all too well.  He says nearly a third of the city’s water mains were installed before 1900. Louras says those pipes should have gradually been replaced during the 1960s, 70s and 80s, but he says taxpayers back then didn’t like spending any more than they do today. “Just last year, during the winter we were responding to and repairing one water main rupture per week.  And that’s just not cost effective,” says the mayor. “What’s cost effective is replacing an 1873 water main rather than repairing it four different times.”

"What's cost effective is replacing an 1873 water main, rather than repairing it four different times." - Rutland Mayor Christopher Louras

Louras says it’s up to local officials to educate the public on infrastructure maintenance and he feels voters in Rutland are willing to invest when they feel a project is warranted.

For instance, he says voters passed a $5 million bond last year to fix sewers and storm water run off in a city neighborhood hit hard by flooding. And he says voters have also supported large increases to the city’s paving budget.

But like many local leaders, he says there’s only so much money to go around and the sheer volume of repairs needed is daunting.

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