The state has been given $20 million to improve railroad bridges between Rutland, Bennington and Hoosick Falls, New York.

The award was announced last week by Sen. Patrick Leahy.

The money is from the U.S. Department of Transportation through the Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development program. It was awarded to the Vermont Agency of Transportation, according to Leahy, who said the money is to be spent on shoring up or replacing 31 rail bridges along 53 miles of Vermont Railway. These are rails owned by the state.

An AOT spokesperson said the department has only just received word of the award and is waiting to hear more details before commenting.

“I think that’s great news,” said Rep. David Potter, D-West Rutland, who sits on the House Committee on Transportation. “It needs upgrades, probably more than $20 million, but that’s a great start.”

Potter said the award will likely be discussed by his committee when the Legislature convenes. He’d only just heard of the award and had few details to share. He said the bridges along that stretch of rail are in need of upgrades and raising their weight limits will benefit a number of local businesses and industries.

Potter said he’s not in a position to speculate on when this work might get underway, but expects to learn more from the AOT.

“This investment in Vermont’s rail infrastructure is a win-win for business and the environment,” Leahy said. “By increasing the capacity of the VT Railway, Vermont businesses will have better access to rail shipping, which in turn will lead to fewer trucks on our roads. As a country and a state, we need to prioritize these types of infrastructure investments that will lessen the transportation sector’s reliance on fossil fuels.”

Increasing the weight capacity of these bridges was listed as a priority in the 2015 Vermont State Rail Plan, (vtrans.vermont.gov) according to Leahy.

Leahy said the national standard for weight loads is 286,000 pounds, but most lines in Vermont are only rated for 263,000 pounds. He said these upgrades will connect towns along the west side of the state to Burlington, and open the area to the region in general.

keith.whitcomb @rutlandherald.com

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