From the Director, February 2017 - Making Sure Rural America Isn't Left Behind
Investment in infrastructure was a key element of both party platforms during the 2016 election, and it continues to be a top priority for the new Administration and Congress. At the request of Congressman Peter Welch, we surveyed our towns about their current public infrastructure investment priorities to inform his conversation with colleagues on both sides of the aisle on infrastructure policy that meets the needs of rural America. The turnaround time on the requested information was tight, but we still received reports from 12 of our 27 towns.
Their needs are dominated by transportation infrastructure, especially bridges and culverts, but also include water and sewer, broadband, and investment in public buildings. The total cost of these town needs comes to approximately $81.2 million dollars. Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation industrial infrastructure needs total $4 million. VTrans projects in our region total $136.5 million. Together, this partial summary of needs comes to approximately $222 million dollars. And these are projects that could be implemented over the next 5 years.
Congressman Welch met with regional planning commission directors on Friday, January 27th to get our perspective on how federal infrastructure investment could better meet rural community needs. There is some concern that the private investment strategy that's been posited could put rural America at a disadvantage as it would likely focus on places with higher demand (i.e., more people and greater density). It was a good, substantive discussion, and he asked us to get back to him with the case he should make to his colleagues; a proverbial "elevator speech." I've offered the following to get our discussion started.
- Local priorities: Focus on the existing backlog of infrastructure needs that rural communities have identified as necessary for their continued well-being and growth. While funding can come through states, it must come with a mandate that funding be for and used by local governments. There can be a separate pool of funding for state needs.
- Innovation and Flexibility: Rural communities are hot beds of innovation. Solutions should fit the community rather than make the community fit the solution. Empower communities to develop solutions that meet their needs as well as health and environmental standards.
- Program Accessibility: Rural communities need grants, not loans, and program matches should be based upon community means. Program administration should hold communities accountable for use of federal funding without unduly burdensome reporting requirements that exceed rural community administrative capacities.
These are my initial thoughts coming out of that conversation. I'd like to hear your ideas. The need for investment in our infrastructure - both green and gray - has broad support by citizens and elected officials alike. We should be encouraged that our Federal delegation is making sure the infrastructure needs of rural America are not forgotten.