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Congress Increases Territory's Transportation Funding

July 30, 2005 – A plan to develop two of the territory's highways will receive a significant boost with the passage of a federal transportation bill by the U.S. Congress on Friday. Other roads and the territory's public transportation system, VITRAN, stand to benefit as well.
The bill, known as the "Safe, Accountable, Flexible and Efficient Transportation Equity Act," will bring approximately $115 million in federal funds to the territory over the next five years, Gov. Charles W. Turnbull said in a release from Government House Friday. However, a release from Delegate Donna M. Christensen placed the funds closer to $108 million over the next five years.
"We are very pleased at the significant increases in highway funding that this bill represents," Christensen said, in the release. "The Virgin Islands is set to receive approximately $16 million per year for the first two years, and approximately $20 million for last three years of the bill."
Under the previous federal transportation bill, the territory received approximately $13 million in highway funding each year.
Included in the bill is an appropriation of $8 million each for the Christiansted Bypass on St. Croix and the East-West Corridor Road outside of Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas, two "special" highway projects. The projects were added as part of the legislation upon the request of the governor and Christensen, according to the release from Government House.
Christensen said House Transportation Committee Chairman Don Young and Ranking Member James Oberstar supported her in her efforts to include a technical amendment that changes the territory's designation to "urbanized area" for the purpose of mass transit funding. This will result in an increase in funding to operate a modern transit system, from $150,000 a year to $1 million a year for the next six years, Christensen said.
"This is good news, as it represents a significant shot in the arm for our VITRAN bus system," Christensen said, adding that the governor and his staff were instrumental in the effort.
According to Turnbull's release, the bill's language allows for the funding of ferries and ferry boat terminals and allows for maximum flexibility in the use of those funds. The bill also includes a number of reforms to the Territory Highway Program, which would allow the territories – for the first time – to use the funds to repair and improve local roads feeding into the federal highways.
"It has been a long struggle, but the new transportation bill will bring important improvements to the transportation system in the Virgin Islands," Turnbull said, thanking the delegate and the members of Congress for their efforts in passing the legislation.
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