VT House May Cut Champlain Flyer Service

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(Host) The Dean Administration says it plans to actively fight any effort to cut funds for a commuter rail project in Chittenden County.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) In about two weeks, the House is expected to consider the state’s transportation plan for next year. Included in the proposal is a provision which would eliminate all state funding for the Champlain Flyer, a commuter rail train that operates in Chittenden County.

The train is in the second year of a three-year pilot project and it’s been financed largely using federal funds. The state pays 20% of the train’s current operating budget, or roughly $600, 000 a year. The House Transportation Committee and the House Appropriations Committee have both voted to take this money and use it instead for local road projects.

Administration Secretary Kathy Hoyt says this action is a mistake because the train needs to be in place when a major renovation of Route 7 is undertaken.

The Federal government has put more than $15 million into this project and Hoyt says the Bush administration may very well ask for this money back if the Legislature prematurely ends it:

(Hoyt) “And I really do think there was a commitment made when the grants came that this was going to be a pilot program and that we were going to see it out. And we took the money from the federal government and we made improvements in the state in order to do that¿. It would be going against our earlier commitments if we backed away from it.”

Shelburne Representative George Schiavone has been a long time critic of the commuter rail project and is a member of the House Transportation Committee. Shiavone says the time has come to pull the plug on this train because the money can be better spent other projects:

(Schiavone) “The ridership is remaining flat. I estimate that the best that they’re going to do next year is about 100,000 people and the project was sold on about 215,000. I just don’t see it reaching that. There is tremendous need for funding in other parts of the transportation budget and we felt that this one was one that really could move out on and put some money into town highways and into paving. Those are the two things that are hurting very badly right now.”

Schiavone says he doubts that the federal government will ask the state to return any money if the commuter rail project is terminated. Schaivone says improvements made to the track bed will enhance freight traffic in the region and will make it possible for AmTrack to operate a train that will link New York City, Rutland and Burlington in the future.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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