State transportation bill gets unanimous approval in the House

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The Vermont House has given its unanimous approval to the state transportation bill for next year. House Transportation chairman Richard Westman says the bill is a just small step in dealing with Vermont’s transportation infrastructure crisis.

The legislation also includes a bonding provision that the Governor strongly opposes.

VPRs Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) The message from the House Transportation committee to the full House was clear – if Vermont doesn’t allocate a lot more money to repair the state’s transportation system in the near future, the system will fall apart and cost a fortune to fix five to ten years from now.

The bill includes some changes to a plan proposed by Governor Jim Douglas. For instance, it appropriates an additional 6 million dollars for local highway and bridge projects.

Some of the new money is available by cutting back on park and ride facilities and bike paths.

Transportation committee chairman Richard Westman says that the bill is a short term solution to a long term problem. He notes that the percentage of Vermont roads in very poor condition will jump from 21% to 43% in just two years unless the paving budget is increased dramatically. Westman says this bill level funds the paving budget because there appears to be little interest in raising any transportation related taxes:

(Westman) "But given where we are and what the climate is in the state right now and the place we’re at it’s the best we can do with the hand that we’ve been dealt us:.

And Westman says this winter’s harsh weather isn’t the major reason why some of the state’s roads are littered with potholes:

(Westman) "My belief is that if you have old infrastructure it needs maintenance a hard winter will create many more potholes than if you start with good roads in the beginning."

The bill does contain a provision that Governor Douglas opposes. Its plan to create a special committee to study transportation bonding options. The legislation requires the governor to include a bonding proposal in his budget next January if the committee finds a suitable plan. Waterbury Rep. Sue Minter:

(Minter) "This section advances a real discussion among our decision makers about how we can address the transDouglas says this provision creates a separation of powers issue and he thinks it’s wrong to consider a large transportation bond at this time:

(Douglas)"To just say let’s go borrow a lot more money is not the way to go it was excessive borrowing that caused the sub prime mortgage crisis we have to be responsible we have to maintain our infrastructure but also the fiscal integrity of our state."

The transportation bill now moves to the Senate for its consideration.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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