Behind the Transportation Bill
BRATTLEBORO >> As new leadership changes come to Montpelier, energy issues will stay at the forefront for many involved.
"I really value the work you do and it's really important," Rep. Mollie Burke, P/D-Brattleboro, told the town's Energy Committee at a meeting on Monday.
The state's Transportation Bill, which was signed by Gov. Peter Shumlin on June 2, was the main subject of discussion. Burke is on the House Committee on Transportation and is running for re-election.
Burke said Vermont Agency of Transportation or VTrans currently has a "very strong awareness" about issues around energy, carbon emissions and multi-modal transportation.
"We'll see what happens with a new governor," she said, adding that transportation funding is a challenge.
About 40 million fewer gallons of gas were sold since 2005, said Burke, attributing that to better fuel efficiency and people driving less. That was good, she said, but it reduced the amount of tax revenue coming in.
One of her frustrations has to do with 47 percent of Vermont's greenhouse emissions coming from transportation sources.
"Unless you could say 'if you're A to M last name, you can drive on Tuesdays,' it's been a very hard thing to get at," Burke said. "It's a challenge as we all know and we live in a rural state."
The state's investment in public transportation improvements and promoting electric vehicles was encouraging to Burke. She said an electric-assisted bicycle does not have to be registered. But kids under 16 cannot drive them on streets.
There are hopeful signs in expanding the Vermonter Amtrak train, Burke told committee members, looking positively at communication between officials from Canada and Vermont. But immigration issues will need to be ironed out.
"The state has a strong interest in making this happen because having a destination like Montreal will make the Vermonter much more economically viable," Burke said.
A $10 million grant to continue expansion on the western corridor of the tracks, where trains travel from New York through Albany to Rutland, will see a stop added in Burlington.
"That's a really big priority and that's happening fast," said Burke. "There's a lot of interest in rail in the state."
An allocation of $100,000 from National Highway Transportation Safety grants will be used for road-safety education via the Share the Road program. Four bicyclist fatalities last year inspired this decision. Each incident involved impaired driving.
Having "a wrangle" with the Senate but ultimately prevailing, Burke said she was able to get a recommended 4-foot distance for vehicles passing bicyclists.
"It's something that when educating around safety, it's a really good thing to have some kind of number," she explained.
A driver could receive a civil penalty of up to $200 if they turn left and do not leave a safe distance to a "vulnerable user" of the road, according to the bill. That person could be walking, biking or using a wheel chair.
Railroad safety is an issue that could affect plans for a bike path being proposed on the West River Trail in Brattleboro. Trespassing on the tracks could get someone a $200 fine. The bill restricts "even hunters from going within 8 feet of the railroad tracks on either side," Burke said.
Fencing could be a possibility for the trail. But safety would have to be the first priority, according to Burke.
"I'm happy to facilitate a conversation with people at VTrans," she said.
Projects were prioritized in the legislation with recommendations coming from regional planning commissions around the state. Added to the list for consideration were projects seeking to gain resilience for transportation infrastructure against floods and other extreme weather events, said Burke.
And one section of the bill allowed for a welcome sign to be erected in West Brattleboro.
Contact Chris Mays at email@example.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 273.
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