Hoping to secure federal funding for Vermont infrastructure projects in fiscal year 2020 budget, U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy recently encouraged the village of Essex Jct. to apply for monies to fix up its dilapidated train station.
Village officials lament the station, calling it an out-of-date eyesore in desperate need of a makeover, and fixes have long been on the village’s to-do list, with trustees approving $1 million-plus plans in 2016.
But the price tag has jumped to around $1.6 million, accounting for inflation, while officials have declined to appropriate any local funds toward the project, holding out hope for help from the state or feds.
They haven’t had much luck.
Leahy’s ask, however, renews hopes of fixing up Vermont’s busiest station, which village officials have stressed would bring positive economic development to the surrounding area. A study from Dallas Area Rapid Transit showed each dollar invested in rail stations spurred $7 of private investments in commercial development and housing. That could mean a whole lot of growth if the village received its $2 million request in full.
Village president George Tyler cautioned the application does not guarantee the village will receive any money, especially given the uncertain times that come with a month-long government shutdown. But he said it’s important to at least keep the conversation with Leahy going: Village officials have been in contact with Leahy’s office for years about the project.
“When they ask us for something, they’re keeping us in mind,” Tyler said.
Trustees briefly discussed whether the village should propose a local match to any funding received. They eventually agreed to offer up to 10 percent, or $200,000, if the village gets the full award amount.
Though not required, such an offer shows the village is serious about the project, said municipal manager Evan Teich, who noted there’s enough in the village’s economic development fund – a 1-cent tax levied each of the last three years – to cover that cost.
Teich also anticipated the village may find some willing partners in the town or at the state level, given the importance of the project.
The Essex Jct. train station serves nearly 20,000 people a year with daily Amtrak service to Massachusetts, New York City and Washington, D.C.
The village’s application notes the station remains critical for any rail service connecting the Green Mountain State with Montreal, and the push to reinstate that service brings an added prominence to the local hub.
Leahy has played a vital role in hopes of resuscitating the Montrealer, a service that disbanded in 1995 due in large part to long wait times at the border during customs checks.
In 2015, the senator held a press conference at the Essex Jct. station to announce plans for establishing pre-clearance protocols that would expedite the customs process, and over the next few years helped push the bill through the U.S. and Canadian legislatures.