Sen. Nitka: Montpelier wrestles with clean transportation appropriations

By Sen. Alice Nitka

The budget for the VT Agency of Transportation was presented in the Senate this past week and includes everything from evidentiary blood samples to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to paving to electric charging stations to a study of “vehicle feebates.” I was startled to find out they are rebates for persons who purchase or lease efficient vehicles and funded by persons who buy or lease inefficient vehicles. Yikes!

This 2020 budget plan includes multiple investments to reduce fossil fuel use and further the goals and policies of the Comprehensive Energy Plan as well as to satisfy commitments to the Paris Agreement climate goals.  Park and Ride facilities will grow by a total of 554 new spaces owned by the state at existing locations and at three new proposed locations. The cost along with other improvements will total more than $2.5 million.

Under the Bike and Pedestrian Facilities Program, $14.7 million is proposed for construction in 2021 of 34 projects and 20 design or right-of-way projects. Some towns in Windsor County that will benefit are Chester, Hartford, Norwich, Royalton and Springfield. The projects include the creation or improvement of walkways, sidewalks, bike paths, shared use pathways and cycling lanes.

The Public Transit Program authorizes $36.8 million for use throughout the state. This is a 17 percent increase over 2019. It includes spending on two large, all-electric transit buses for the Burlington area and two all-electric small shuttle buses for the Montpelier area. $3 million from the Federal Transit Authority that flows through the state will go directly to the Green Mountain Transit Authority.  A grant of $50,000 will go to the Vermont Kidney Foundation to support the transportation needs of Vermonters in need of dialysis services.

Transformation of the state vehicle fleet of 734 vehicles — of which 54 are hybrids or plug-ins — will occur. After July 1, 2019 the state will be required to purchase or lease not less than 50 percent of new vehicles as hybrids or plug-ins and after July 1, 2021 not less than 75 percent. There is money for Level 3 charging stations to be installed. Other proposals in this area of the transportation budget include an electric vehicle incentive purchase program for income eligible Vermont households as well as a program to assist financially with emissions repairs for low income people on their existing vehicles. $1.5 million is authorized for these two programs and it will be on a first-come, first-served basis until the funds are exhausted. I believe the rules will still need to be written.

Also invested is $35.9 million for freight and passenger rail uses, an 11 percent increase over last year. It includes infrastructure upgrades to bring passenger rail service from Rutland to Burlington. Regarding freight, one freight car holds the equivalent of four tractor trailers and reduces the wear and tear on the highways. There is spending for paving, bridges, airports, garages, salt, rest areas, town highways, traffic operations, salaries, the Department of Motor Vehicles and law enforcement and more. The total appropriation is $617 million.

Consider visiting your State House to hear the floor debates. Bills are very hard to follow now as they are being combined with other bills that are more likely to pass. Contact me at home at 802-228-8432 or the State House at 1-800-322-5616 or anitka@leg.state.vt.us

I am able to read all of your  e-mails and appreciate you sending them, however the volume received makes it impossible to respond to all of them.

Sen. Nitka represents the Windsor District in the Vermont legislature.

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