Imagine walking or biking across I-89 without the fear of a speeding car careening into the sidewalk. A $9.7 million federal grant could finally make South Burlington’s dream of a protected pedestrian bridge a reality, officials announced last week.

Senators Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders and Rep. Peter Welch joined South Burlington city officials Nov. 19 to announce the award of the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity grant, also known as RAISE, according to a statement from Leahy.

They described the bridge as part of the federal climate change strategy and one of many tools to strengthen Vermont downtowns.

“Envisioned to be a destination, not just a pathway, this bicycle and pedestrian bridge will connect our burgeoning city center with our neighboring community and key destinations such as the university and the hospital,” South Burlington city manager Jessie Baker said, adding that the infrastructure will be “critical to address the impacts of climate change.”

Currently, pedestrians and bicyclists must traverse Route 2’s four on- and off-ramps next to high-speed traffic at one of the busiest interstate exchanges in Vermont to reach the sister cities. According to the statement, the accessibility of an alternate route — fuel-free and protected — will help improve both health and environmental outcomes.

Sanders spoke of his support for the bridge as an “important step” to bettering the lives of Vermonters.

“If we are going to combat the existential threat of climate change, strengthen our economy and improve the lives of Vermonters across the state, we can and must transform our transportation systems away from fossil fuels and toward sustainable alternatives,” Sanders said.

Leahy, who recently announced his retirement from U.S. Senate, pointed to the bridge as integral to the heart of Chittenden County.

“Projects like this not only improve our transportation network but strengthen Vermont’s downtowns with environmentally sustainable projects,” he said.

As chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Leahy ensured rural states like Vermont would receive a portion of federal grant money in last year’s appropriations bill, per the statement.

The RAISE grant will provide $9,768,834 for the construction of the bridge, enabling pedestrian and bicycle travel east to west between Burlington and South Burlington.

This year, the U.S. Department of Transportation received 765 eligible grant applications requesting more than $10.3 billion in funding, but fewer than 100 applications were funded.

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