While all three members of Vermont's Congressional delegation support a $1 trillion plan to rebuild America's roads and bridges, they say President Trump's transportation proposal is a giveaway to Wall Street investment firms, and will send tolls skyrocketing.
During the 2016 presidential campaign there were a number of issues where Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders and Republican candidate Donald Trump seem to agree. One of them was the need to launch a massive public works plan to rebuild this country's transportation infrastructure.
Recently, the president released his proposal. It calls for "public-private" partnerships that would allow private investment companies to purchase roads and bridges. These firms would then be responsible to maintain them and they could impose tolls or fees to pay for these repair costs.
Sanders is appalled at the president's approach.
"Trump had, during his campaign, said 'I, Donald Trump think we should invest a $1 trillion [in infrastructure]' and people said 'well, that's pretty good. That's similar to what Bernie Sanders is saying,' but it turns out that the plan that he released is a total fraud,” said Sanders.
Sanders says he strongly opposes the basic concept behind the president's plan.
"So what he is talking about is privatizing our infrastructure — what the people own — selling it off to the private sector and in return the private sector will invest in rebuilding the infrastructure," Sanders says, "but make a whole lot of money by increased tolls and fees."
Sen. Patrick Leahy describes Trump's plan as "a great giveaway to Wall Street." Leahy points to an example in Chicago to demonstrate his central criticism of the president's approach.
In this case, the city government sold the rights to their parking meters to a private company as a way to raise money for other city programs. The company was then free to raise rates whenever it wanted to and it did.
"They're now charging $6 an hour," Leahy says, "$6 an hour on these parking meters and the Wall Street firm now wants to sell it to one of the Middle Eastern countries, which would control the parking in Chicago."
Leahy also doubts that many private companies will be interested in making investments in rural states like Vermont.
“It certainly is going to be devastating to us in Vermont," Leahy says. "Can you imagine how many roads are going to be built in the Northeast Kingdom by private industry if they have to rely on tolls?"
Rep. Peter Welch also has many concerns about the president's plan. He thinks the public would support an increase in the federal gas tax if all the money was used to repair bridges and roads throughout the country.
"I've found that when people see that they're getting real return, that the highways are better, our roads are repaired, our bridges work," Welch says, "they understand that somehow someway we've got to share that cost."
Opposition to the president's plan in Vermont extends beyond the Congressional delegation to include Gov. Phil Scott.
"I don't see how that would work in Vermont to be honest with you," Scott says. "I just don't see that that would be an opportunity for us to move forward. I don't think we have enough traffic to make any of that pay."
And Scott says the plan would also create additional financial burdens for many Vermonters.
"People have to travel to their jobs, travel longer distances, and if we have to utilize a toll system that will just further burden those Vermonters that rely on travel," said Scott.
Officials are concerned that a failure to reach a compromise will mean that Congress won't pass an infrastructure plan this year and they say this lack of action will cause road and bridge repair costs to increase in the future.