BRATTLEBORO - With transportation funds expected to be in short supply this year, and lawmakers preparing to return to Montpelier in a few months, the Vermont Transportation Board will be holding hearings throughout the state to gather input on transportation needs for the coming year.
The board will be in Brattleboro on Wednesday, Oct. 24, for its first hearing in the state, which will be held in the Community Room at the Windham Regional Career Center at 80 Atwood St.
The hearing will begin at 6:30 p.m.
The Vermont Transportation Board is a seven member board that has regulatory authority on transportation requests from municipalities and rules on disputes between the Agency of Transportation and contractors or property owners.
The governor appoints the members of the board
Transportation Board Executive Secretary John Zicconi said the board has identified six topics that the lawmakers and state officials will most likely be considering during the 2013 legislative session. These include transportation revenues, bike and pedestrian issues, the future of passenger rail and inter-city bus service, climate change, the VTrans Accelerated Bridge Program and roadway safety.
The board will be producing a report for state officials and lawmakers and Zicconi says the hearing will be an important forum for asking questions and for directing policies in the coming year.
"The board is looking for comments on transportation
Zicconi said Vermont is coming out of three years of relatively robust transportation spending.
In 2009 and 2010 money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or the Stimulus bill, brought millions of dollars in federal money for bridge and road projects.
Then, in 2011, Tropical Storm Irene destroyed more than 500 miles of roadway and more federal money came in to help the state rebuild.
Now, according to Zicconi, Vermont is looking at a transportation budget that will shrink from about $650 million to about $450 or $500 million.
And as lawmakers and state officials are forced to make tough decision, meetings like the one in Brattleboro Wednesday night could help drive transportation decisions next year.
He said the board wanted to highlight the six issues, though the board will also take comments on other topics.
"We thought it would be helpful to get public comments on topics that we know legislators are working on," Zicconi said. "Then we will report on what we hear."
Along with gathering information at the hearings, the Transportation Board is also collecting input online, at www.aot.state.vt.us/tboard.
"We want to understand what people’s priorities are," Zicconi. "We know there are a lot of needs and the question always becomes, ‘How are we going to pay for it.’"
Windham Regional Commission Senior Planner Matt Mann said the hearings give the Transportation Board members a chance to hear firsthand experiences from Vermonters about their use, and frustrations, with the state’s transportation system.
"Developing this report is a partnership and at this stage the board wants to reach out and bring people up to speed on statewide transportation issues," Mann said. "And this meeting is also a chance to discuss what the experiences are of the people using the transportation system in the Windham County region."
Mann also said statewide transportation funding was going to be in short supply next year, and as pedestrian and bicycle needs, and multi-modal planning, continue to grow and play a more prominent role in planning, Mann said it is important for supporters to come to a meeting like this to make sure bike and pedestrian projects get the attention they deserve.
"We know that we are going to be facing a situation where we are going to have to prioritize our projects," Mann said. "Things are moving in the right direction but it’s going to have to come down to weighing project against project. There are going to be some tough decisions to make. "
Rep. Mollie Burke, D-Brattleboro and a member of the House Transportation Committee, said Wednesday’s meeting gives Windham County residents a chance to weigh in on transportation policy.
"It’s great that the board is coming down to do this," Burke said. "When we are talking about these issues we always want to know what people are experiencing and this is a place where the public can make comments and bring concerns to the Transportation Department."
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at email@example.com or at 802-254-2311 ext. 279.