This report assesses the effectiveness of the Local Transportation Facilities (LTF) program in Vermont. It finds that while the program is useful for relatively large and not pressing infrastructure developments, it can be overly burdensome and inflexible for municipalities with immediate needs or smaller scale projects. Our sponsor, the Vermont League of Cities and Towns (VLCT), is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that serves Vermonts municipal officials. The VLCT tasked the Policy Research Shop with documenting the extent and source of delays stemming from the inefficiencies associated with a request for funding of municipal infrastructure projects through the LTF program.2 The LTF program is responsible for the development of enhancement projects, bicycle and pedestrian facilities, safe routes to school projects, park-and-rides, scenic byways and local projects.
To address this question we conducted interviews with seven municipal project managers who directly oversaw twelve municipal infrastructure projects over the past decade. In addition we explored two case studies of Morrisville and Middlebury towns which have decided to forgo completely the federal funding offered by the LTF and to pursue their projects alone.
Our results indicate that while the LTF program functions well in many respects, there may be some room for improvement. The current LTF process seems most suited to municipalities that plan to undertake large projects and have more flexible schedules for their completion. While there is a need for stringent regulation and close supervision for vital infrastructure projects, we found evidence that for small changes with relatively minor associated risk factors like repaving a pavement or constructing a bike path, the administrative overhead imposed by the LTF program can be prohibitive for small towns without dedicated staff with experience with the bureaucratic process. Indeed, there are instances where small towns have found that they can undertake such projects more cheaply themselves than with LTF even after factoring in the federal subsidy. Furthermore, the long waitlist for LTF funding for some projects may force municipalities to consider other options if their infrastructure needs immediate attention.
With a view to the identified hurdles in the LTF program, the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) might want to consider the following changes in the process. First, delegating more responsibility and flexibility to the local governments could positively impact the administrative burden imposed on the municipalities, reduce costs, ensure a greater match between the municipalities needs and the completed infrastructure, and allow LTF employees to focus on the bigger picture rather than micromanagement of the individual projects. One approach to achieving this goal could be giving more leeway to municipalities with the actual construction of the project after a budget acceptable both to the State and to the locality has been agreed upon and making them responsible for the end result with possible penalties in case of problems. Second, it may be worthwhile to consider bumping urgent projects up the waitlist which would enable municipalities with pressing concerns to take advantage of the LTF program. Third, the reporting and unique design requirements as well as the level of oversight should be proportional to the relative riskiness and complexity of a project so as not to impose a disproportionate burden on minor projects.