“Operation smooth ride” hits bump in road

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(Host) A quick-fix road repair program that Governor Jim Douglas called "Operation Smooth Ride" has run into some bumps in the Legislature.

Leaders in the House want to use the bulk of the $3 million for town road projects.

But the Senate Transportation Committee wants to spend more of the money on state highways.

VPR’s John Dillon has more.

(Dillon) House Transportation Committee Chairman Richard Westman says it’s a question of priorities. He says town roads took a beating last winter just as much as state highways.

(Westman) "You drive on any of our local roads for towns, and they’re having the same pothole problems that the state is having. So we said we need to consider that in the mix."

(Dillon) The governor wants to use $3 million dollars from this year’s transportation budget to put a thin overlay of pavement on the state’s worst roads. Other programs had to be cut to come up with the money.

Westman’s committee wants to spend $2 million of the $3 million on local road projects.

(Westman) "All of the programs for the towns help alleviate the property tax."

(Dillon) Grand Isle Senator Dick Mazza chairs the Senate Transportation Committee. He says the towns benefit from spending on state highways.

(Mazza) "Let’s face it the $3 million was not a great deal of money. If you start splitting that too many ways, it’s not going to do anybody any good at all. The important thing is that the $3 million was helping towns because a lot of these Class 1 highways go through towns. So it isn’t that we’re neglecting towns it’s that if you take $3 million and try to distribute it all over the state it means something, If you take $3 million and split it a couple of ways, it’s not going to mean very much to any community."

(Dillon) Mazza says he thought the House and Senate agreed several weeks ago on how the money should be divvied up.

(Mazza) "And the object was to get the emergency funding out there as soon as possible. So here it is, you know, almost the first of May, and pavers are waiting for the contracts, and nothing is happening."

(Dillon) The debate over funding for the smooth ride program reveals a bigger difference between the two chambers.

Westman, of the House Transportation Committee, says he’s trying to correct an imbalance in spending priorities.

He says the Senate version of next year’s transportation budget spends $7 million dollars less on town roads that the House bill does.

(Westman) "There’s a major difference between what the Senate and what the House did. We haven’t increased town highway aid in five years. It’s been level-funded. And the towns are facing some pretty significant increase in the cost of their projects, just the same as the state is."

(Dillon) Meanwhile, Governor Douglas says he’s also worried about delays in the emergency road repair program. But Westman says the asphalt plants that supply the material for the projects are not even open yet for the season.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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