BRATTLEBORO -- For the first time since 2005 the state is looking for new projects to support under its Bicycle and Pedestrian Program.
Gov. Peter Shumlin's administration has made bicycle and pedestrian safety and access a priority and this year the administration is making about $2 million in federal transportation money available for the projects.
The Douglas Administration froze the funding for the Bicycle and Pedestrian Program seven years ago.
"Bicycle and pedestrian projects are an important part of the state's transportation system, keeping Vermonters healthier and the environment cleaner," Shumlin said Monday. "These projects support the goals of Vermont's Comprehensive Energy Plan and the Climate Action Plan, and enable people to commute to work and enjoy more of Vermont in a safe and healthy manner. My administration will continue to support these investments as communities look for ways to improve mobility in a more sustainable fashion."
Agency of Transportation Bicycle and Pedestrian Program Manager Jon Kaplan said that while the state has been using other sources of federal money for its Enhancement and its Safe Routes to School programs, this is the first time since 2005 that new project plans have been solicited.
The state has been putting roughly $2.5 million annually into bike and pedestrian projects through the Enhancement and Safe Route to Schools programs.
"It has been a number of years since
Kaplan said the transportation grants can be used for planning, design and construction of infrastructure projects that improve safety and access for bicyclists and/or pedestrians.
Applications are due in to the state by Aug. 24 and Kaplan said awards will be announced some time in the early fall.
The state is looking to fund projects such as bicycle lanes, shoulders and shared use paths, and improvements such as lighting, signals and refuge islands that increase pedestrian safety.
Projects that address concerns at high crash locations and that connect other bike-ped facilities or that are within village centers or downtown areas will be considered favorably, Kaplan said.
Kaplan said when regional planning commissions were polled about potential projects across the state, about $100 million in ideas were sent in.
The $2 million will only help a fraction of that total, still, Kaplan said it is an important first step after putting new projects off for so long.
"This is one more source of funding we can use," he said. "This administration supports bicycle and pedestrian projects as part of the overall transportation system."
Windham Regional Commission Senior Planner Matt Mann said the state's decision to use the bike-ped money comes just as Congress is talking about cutting funding for alternative modes of transportation.
Mann said the latest news out of Washington, where lawmakers are debating the new transportation bill, is that states will probably get fewer dollars for enhancement projects.
"It's great news that VTrans is getting this program back on track when there are cuts being made on the federal level," Mann said. "It means that additional projects will be funded, though there will be more competition for the funding."
Rep. Mollie Burke, D-Brattleboro and a member of the House Transportation Committee, said the state's announcement of the $2 million in bike-ped funding is only the latest indication of a change in Montpelier toward a more fully-integrated transportation system.
Burke, who served two years with the Douglas Administration, said bicycle, pedestrian and intermodal projects are now a priority.
"There has been a sea change of attitude with the arrival of the Shumlin Administration and with the naming of Brian Searles as Secretary of Transportation," Burke said. "Transportation is not just about getting automobiles efficiently where they need to go. We need to have an integrated and varied transportation system to serve all users."
Steve Fortier, the executive director of Meeting Waters YMCA and the founder of the Healthy Communities Coalition, said the governor has been signalling strong policy support for programs such as this.
"But, it takes money for enlightened town planners and leaders like many we are working with in Windham County to put the law into effect," he said. "This is more great support from the governor for making Vermont's communities more walkable and livable."
VTrans will conduct two informational workshops about the program and the application process over the Vermont Interactive TV Network.
The workshops, which can be seen over the network at Brattleboro Union High School, will be held from 1 to 3 p.m. on July 17, and then on July 18 from 5 to 7 p.m.
For more information on the Bicycle and Pedestrian Program, or to obtain an application, call Kaplan at 802-828-0059, or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at email@example.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 279