August 17th, 2019

VOTE FOR VERMONT: What’s New in Transportation

Pat Brennan has been Chair of the House Transportation Committee for nine years. There are many bills that impact Transportation being considered in the Legislature this year. Ben Kinsley and Pat McDonald, Co-hosts of Vote for Vermont questions the Chair about them.

Because of a spike in unbelted deaths in past years, the Chair and others changed their minds about making seat belt enforcement a primary offense. The bill is working its way through the process with strong support from law enforcement, highway safety, and others.

Another bill provides a civil penalty for Junior Operators if they use cell phones while driving, even hands-free. The fine for this offense will be between $100 and $200 which the legislature feels will send a strong message.

Ben and Pat asked the Chair about the marijuana bill. The Chair and his committee were not pleased with the way the process went because the bill as passed had no highway safety measures and the bill was passed before the results of the marijuana committee report were released. The Committee did pass a saliva test bill which flags all drugs in someone’s system. If drugs are identified it gives law enforcement probable cause to call for a Drug Recognition Officer (DRO) or take the driver into custody and get a warrant for a blood test. Unfortunately, tests can only tell when marijuana is present not when it has impaired the driver.

The Chair explained that there are several safety corridors in Vermont (high accident areas). In response the State has stepped up enforcement and education efforts. Many vehicles on Rte. 89 have been clocked going well over 100 mph.

Some states have banned certain guard rails that failed performance standards. Vermont responded immediately by replacing the guard rails in five spots around Vermont. Apparently, the end of the defective guard rails act like a projectile instead of folding up as they should.

We had an interesting discussion about a van which VTrans leases for eleven weeks a year at a cost of $1M. It uses sonar technology which can look deep beyond the road surface to determine its condition. Its saves an enormous amount of staff time and equipment.

The Chair noted that there are changes coming to the DMV’s inspection program. There is a study committee which is looking at developing an easier more efficient program. The manual is being rewritten and changes may come as soon as year-end. One of their challenges is to make sure the program continues to meet ANR restrictions on catalytic converters.

The Transportation budget is $615M of which $250M are from the State and the rest from the Federal Government and matching grants. The Chair said that the general public’s primary interest is paving while the House and Senate are focused on structures like culverts and bridges. In 2008 Vermont’s structural deficient bridges were ranked at 45th nationally. In 2016 the ranking was 13, a major improvement. As devastating as Tropical Storm Irene was, it actually gave the State the opportunity to do a re-set. Severely damaged roads were eligible for 100% federal funding.

The Chair noted that Park and Rides are being used to the maximum. A new Park and Ride is being planned for Williston which will help alleviate the Richmond Park and Ride. The Chair also talked about the success of the public/private partnerships like the Maplewood Travelers Services Center in Berlin.

Ben and Pat asked about Aviation and found out that the Aviation Department and the Rail Department have been combined with successful results. The train from Rutland to Burlington is close to being finished and the Montrealer is just a few years away. The issues now reside with Canada relative to the pre-clearance procedures.

Emergency Management is no longer in the Transportation budget but included in the General Fund. This makes sense because weather events tend to impact more than just transportation infrastructure. The Chair also talked about the Lake Champlain clean up and the impact of storm water runoff. $14M from the Transportation budget has been set aside for storm water grants for municipalities

The Chair noted that the focus of transportation is to maintain and fix what we have and to not take on any new projects. One of those “fix it” projects is the North Hero drawbridge which is in dire need of repair. The project will take 3 years and will cost $64M.

The show wraps up with a discussion about electric vehicles. There are 2300 electric vehicles in Vermont today. More are coming and the Chair said we have to be ready. The State has committed to having charging stations within 30 miles or less from every home. The private sector will own the charging stations. The state needs to figure out how to capture revenue lost through the use of electric cars. The Chair also said that an ATV bill is being worked on that will make it better for ATV operations.

Note: VFV guests discuss many issues and topics, not all included in the above summary. If you would like to see the entire show please go to vote802.com. The comments reflected in this article are opinions stated by VFV guests and should not be considered the opinion or position of either VFV or Campaign for Vermont, its staff or officers. Any rebuttals are welcome and can be expressed on the website and Facebook pages of VFV and CFV.

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