By Guy Page
In January, the Democratic/Progressive supermajority in the Vermont Legislature promised to spend significantly more on alternative transportation as a means of reducing carbon emissions. Not surprisingly, the 2020 Transportation budget features large alternative transportation spending increases and ambitious new projects.
H.529, the state transportation budget bill approved May 23, would spend $2.65 million next year to fund four park-and-ride construction projects — creating 277 new spaces across the state — and the design of five additional facilities — totaling 277 more spaces — scheduled for construction in fiscal year 2021.
Once completed, these 554 new park and ride spaces will increase the number of state-owned parking spaces by 34 percent. Park-and-rides allow commuters to drive short distances from their homes, park, and then ride to work via carpool or public transportation. “These facilities promote multimodal transportation, increase the energy efficiency of the road network, and reduce the number of vehicles present on State highways,” the 2015 Statewide Park and Ride Facilities Plan says. Specific additions and improvements include:
- Williston – construction of 142 spaces;
- Saint Johnsbury – construction of 44 spaces;
- Royalton – construction of 91 spaces;
- Cambridge – improvements to existing spaces;
- Thetford – design for 40 spaces;
- Berlin (Exit 6) – design for 62 spaces at Exit 6, and 75 spaces at Exit 7;
- Manchester – design for 50 spaces; and,
- Williamstown – design for 50 spaces.
H.529 also funds $18.8 million in 2020 spending for a comprehensive expansion of the Bike and Pedestrian Facilities Program and “transportation alternatives.” It includes 77 bike and pedestrian construction, design, or right-of-way projects. The construction projects create, improve or rehab walkways, sidewalks, shared use paths, bike paths, and cycling lanes. Some projects also involve environmental mitigation.
Projects are funded in Albany, Arlington, Bennington, Brandon, Burlington, Castleton, Chester, Colchester, Dover, East Montpelier, Enosburg Falls, Essex, Essex Junction, Fair Haven, Fairfield, Franklin, Hardwick, Hartford, Hinesburg, Hyde Park, Jericho, Lake Champlain causeway, Manchester, Middlebury, Milton, Montpelier-Berlin, Moretown, Newfane, Norwich, Pittsford, Plainfield, Pownal, Pomfret, Putney, Richford, Royalton, Rutland City, Shelburne, St. Albans, South Burlington, Springfield, Stowe, Sheldon, Swanton, Thetford, Underhill, Waitsfield, Waterbury, West Rutland, Williston, Wilmington and Winooski.
H.529 also authorizes a 17.2 percent increase in public transportation spending, to $36.8 million. Allocations include $1.88 million for two large all-electric transit buses for the Burlington area, and $480,000 for two all-electric small shuttle buses for the Montpelier area.
Rail program spending will increase 11 percent over 2019, including $8 million for Amtrak and $5.2 million for Rutland-Burlington passenger service lineinfrastructure.
H.529 also allocates $1.2 million to complete the $7.5 million multi-modal transit center, bike path, and pedestrian facility in Montpelier.
Also, the bill would help fund transformation of the state vehicle fleet to 50% hybrid or plug-in electric. At present 54 of the 734 vehicles owned and operated by the State of Vermont fit that description.
Also, $2 million is allocated for subsidizing purchases of plug-in electric vehicles and for repairs of fuel-efficient cars.
The bill also orders state studies on:
- “feebates” (rebating DMV fees) based on miles-per-gallon
- Weight-based vehicle registration fees – the heavier the vehicle, the higher the fee
- Strategies to increase public transit ridership, especially in rural areas
- A regulatory framework for ‘transportation electrification’ – including presumably a PEV equivalent for the gasoline tax.
Finally, H.529 authorizes Dept. of Transportation Staff to work with the Agency of Natural Resources to negotiate a Transportation and Climate Initiative with other states. As reported in December by Headliners, the TCI is essentially a negative-incentive, multi-state carbon tax, by which rural, wintry gasoline-intensive states – like Vermont – would pay other, “cleaner” states.
Statehouse Headliners is intended primarily to educate, not advocate. It is e-mailed to an ever-growing list of interested Vermonters, public officials and media. Guy Page is affiliated with the Vermont Energy Partnership; the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare; and Physicians, Families and Friends for a Better Vermont.