BURLINGTON, Vt. (WFFF) — Vermont is set to receive at least $2.2 billion after passage of a landmark infrastructure bill, with about half of the state’s take aimed toward transportation projects. Sens. Bernie Sanders and Patrick Leahy were back home Monday to detail what’s coming to Vermont in the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
“This is the most significant infrastructure bill since the Interstate Highway System, Eisenhower in the 1950’s,” Sanders said. “This is a big deal.”
Lawmakers set aside $1.4 billion for federal-aid highway programs in Vermont, $225 million for bridge replacement and repairs, $21 million to expand the state’s electric vehicle charging network, and $86 million to improve and expand public transit. At least $100 million more will go toward deploying broadband across the state, $355 million will fund projects to improve water infrastructure, and $150 million will be used to upgrade Vermont’s border crossings.
Leahy said the passage of the bill was long overdue. The Senate passed the bill on August 10, and 85 days later, the House finally followed suit. Though much blame has been laid at the feet of centrist Democrats, Leahy said the holdup was largely due to Progressive Democrats’ push for a $2 trillion social spending package to be included.
“I was concerned when it was held up earlier because people wanted even more things,” Leahy said. “I’m a pragmatist. I can talk about all kinds of ideological things that I’d like to have and I would like to have, but I also believe in getting things done.”
Rep. Peter Welch voted in favor of the bill Friday night, touting it as an opportunity to help communities close the digital divide, ensure roads are safer and water is cleaner, and create a greener and more resilient transportation sector.
“This bill will finally deliver the resources needed to repair America’s failing infrastructure and invest in our rural communities, bringing affordable high-speed internet to all homes and businesses,” Welch said. “The pandemic has highlighted what we have known in Vermont for a long time—broadband is no longer a luxury service but an essential one.”
That social spending plan, known as the Build Back Better Act, will likely face a tougher road through both chambers than the infrastructure package. “They’re still negotiating what’s going to be in that reconciliation bill,” Leahy said. “I wish they had not held it up because I think a lot of these contracts could’ve been issued, we could’ve been bringing people to work long before now.”
Sanders said Democrats will have to get on the same page in order to address key issues in the social spending plan, like rising health care costs, a lack of affordable housing, and climate change. “It’s easy to criticize the President, or me, or anybody else for trying to address the long-neglected problems of working families,” Sanders said. “That is what we’re trying to do, and we’re trying to do it in a Senate which has 50 Democrats, 50 Republicans, and we’re not getting the support of one Republican. So, that isn’t easy to do, and that’s what this whole process—the struggle and the confusion—has been about.”
The bipartisan infrastructure deal, meanwhile, is expected to create hundreds of jobs in Vermont and around the nation. Sanders insisted on a provision in the bill that ensures the jobs will pay well, and spoke to the challenges Vermont could face in hiring.
“The challenge that we have, given the labor shortage in Vermont, is to make sure that we can get the workers that we need to fix our water systems and our wastewater plants and build the new roads,” Sanders said.
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act still requires President Biden’s signature before becoming law.