The city of Winooski has received a package of loans and grants totaling $8.5 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development for upgrades to the city’s drinking water and wastewater systems.
The grant is part of the city’s $23 million Main Street revitalization project aimed to improve the street north of the city’s downtown traffic circle. Voters approved the project in a May special election by a margin of 311-185.
City manager Jessie Baker said the city was excited to get the grant and low-interest loan package as it has tried to seek outside funding to keep the project’s impact on taxpayers low.
“It is really important to put this project in the context of the community vision that my residents have been working on for a decade,” she said. “We’re just so thankful for the funds to help our community recognize that vision.”
The Vermont congressional delegation released a joint statement saying that they have fought hard for funding for the USDA’s Water and Environmental Programs, which is providing the grants and low-interest loans. Sens. Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders and Rep. Peter Welch said they have made addressing the state’s infrastructure a priority.
“We applaud the leadership shown by the city to invest in infrastructure that will ensure access to safe drinking water, increase vibrancy and livability, while also growing business and housing,” the delegation said in its statement. “We fight hard for these resources in Congress precisely so that cities and towns like Winooski can use them to realize their vision for what they want their community to be.”
Along with the upgrades to water, stormwater and wastewater infrastructure, the Main Street revitalization project includes improved sidewalks, underground telecom and cable lines and an uphill bike lane. The project will cover the area from the New England Central Railroad bridge to the Colchester town line.
With state and federal grants, the city predicts the property tax and utility rate increases will be kept between 2.5 and 4 percent.
Winooski is waiting to hear back on a couple of other grant applications and is wrapping up the preliminary engineering for the project, Baker said. The city will be shortly entering into a contract with an engineer to advance the development of the design so it has a plan ready when funding for the whole project is secured.
Now that funding is secured for the drinking and wastewater part of the plan, Baker said the city hopes to be able to start construction on that portion in 2020. The full project will take three to four years of construction as it will entail both under- and above-ground improvements.
Part of the project will be to narrow traffic lanes on Main Street. Around 15,000 cars drive on the street daily, Baker said.
“We’re really looking to slow that traffic down, signal to folks they are entering a community,” she said.
This will encourage passers-by to stop at the city’s restaurants and businesses, she said.
A more thorough update on the project will be ready when city leadership reports to the City Council in December or January.
The WEP program provides assistance and funding to rural communities to develop and maintain drinking water and wastewater systems. The program is only available to communities of 10,000 people or less. The United States Census estimates that just over 7,200 people live in the Onion City.
In neighboring Burlington, voters will be considering a $30 million bond to improve the city’s stormwater and wastewater infrastructure after a handful of discharges this summer.
Don't miss a thing. Sign up here to get VTDigger's weekly email on the energy industry and the environment.