Biden infrastructure plan may include funding for Upper Valley needs, town and city officials say

Aging bridges and water systems may be renovated under the $2.3 trillion package.

by Soleil Gaylord | 4/20/21 2:00am

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The American Jobs Plan aims to modernize roads and highways, among investing in other infrastructure projects.

by Naina Bhalla / The Dartmouth Senior Staff

On March 31, President Joe Biden unveiled the American Jobs Plan, a landmark legislative proposal that would allocate $2.3 trillion toward infrastructure projects over the next eight years. If the proposal is ultimately passed by Congress in some form, local New Hampshire town leaders in the Upper Valley said that they will seek to use the funding to support local infrastructure improvements for transportation, bridges, broadband access and energy systems.

The plan, which is funded by restructuring the corporate tax code and raising corporate tax rates, aims to modernize bridges, roads, highways and water pipes; update public transit; invest in “resilient” and “energy-efficient” infrastructure; and expand broadband access. Provisions within Biden’s plan also target multiple forms of transportation updates, including expanding Amtrak service in the northeast corridor between Boston and Washington, D.C., converting the United States Postal Service vehicle fleet to all electric vehicles and upgrading airports and waterways.

Along with national sites, the proposal also has the potential to fund infrastructure improvements in the Upper Valley. According to Hanover public works director Peter Kulbacki, the town’s most pressing infrastructure issue is its water system, which he said is over 70 years old. 

Kulbacki said many New Hampshire regional wastewater treatment and water distribution systems were constructed before the 1900s, during the Great Depression, or right after World War II, and were often built with lead fittings. 

“They're pretty old pipes, and there hasn’t been a lot of infrastructure investment in those for years,” Kulbacki said. 

Kulbacki said bridges and broadband access are also major infrastructure priorities for Hanover. He noted the lack of internet access in some areas of the Upper Valley; many rural areas, he said, do not have broadband access.

Kulbacki also said that Hanover is working to create more sustainable and resilient energy grid systems by transitioning to more renewable energy sources.

“We are working on how we can make our grid more resilient, but also provide local power,” Kulbacki said. “The College is doing that right now — they’ve got a bunch of buildings with rooftop solar.”

Kulbacki added that Hanover plans to build one more solar array this spring, and that once it does the town will have about 90 percent of its power generated on “home facilities and lands.”

According to Lebanon city manager Shaun Mulholland, Advanced Transit, which provides free shuttle buses in the Upper Valley, has a plan to transition to electric buses, a plan that would be “accelerated” by funding through the American Jobs Plan. He added that one of the energy-related projects that his office submitted to Rep. Ann Kuster, D-N.H., to be potentially included in the American Jobs Plan includes transitioning the town’s fleet vehicles from being combustion engine-powered to an all-electric fleet. 

Mulholland also said that the Lebanon Municipal Airport is looking into the prospect of electric aircraft from a Vermont company called Beta Technologies, a project he said he plans to apply for funding from the American Jobs Plan if the bill is passed. 

“For smaller airports, this could be a game-changer in terms of our public transportation,” Mulholland said. 

According to Mulholland, Lebanon has a “significant amount” of roads and bridges that need to be repaired. He added that red-listed bridges — projects designated by the state of New Hampshire as structurally deficient and in need of repair — include Trues Brook bridge, the Route 12A Main Street bridge and the Route 120 Hanover Street bridge. 

“The state provides very little money — it's at the bottom of the list in terms of providing money to municipalities for bridge work,” he said. 

Hartford, Vermont public works director Hannah Tyler said that Vermont’s biggest challenge in improving its infrastructure has been finding applicable funding sources without relying completely on taxpayer dollars.

“One of the problems with infrastructure around the nation is there were big investments in the late 1940s through the 70s, and then we forgot to continue to make good, healthy investments,” Tyler said. “Everything's now 50 to 70 years old, and it’s significantly deteriorated.”

Tyler added that Vermont has had steady funding streams for drinking, waste and stormwater infrastructure due to the state’s commitment to keeping pollutants out of Lake Champlain and the Long Island Sound. However, according to Tyler, the state has historically lacked funding for deteriorated bridges. 

“The state of Vermont has some grant programs that are available for bridges — they tend to be relatively small, where the max is $75,000 for replacing a $6 million bridge,” Tyler said.

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