By Guy Page
September 23, 2019 – Vermont House Transportation Chair Curt McCormack (D-Burlington) plans to bike, walk or ride public transportation to visit the homes of every member of his committee before the Legislature reconvenes in January 2020.
This unprecedented mode of transportation for a committee chair to visit his members is partly practical, but mostly to make a point to the legislators whose votes he will need to continue his aggressive renewable-power transportation agenda. McCormack does not own a car. He commutes to Montpelier bicycle and/or public transportation. Last year Speaker Mitzi Johnson appointed him chair to replace Pat Brennan (R-Colchester), owner/operator of the biggest pickup truck in the General Assembly. His legislative and spending priorities last year “walked the talk” when his committee approved millions of dollars of increased spending on pedestrian, electric-car, bicycle and rail infrastructure and created significant new policies, with the promise of more (see below).
Headliners spotted him at a Montpelier café this morning talking with legislative leaders of pro-renewable power VPIRG. During an interview afterwards, he addressed spending and policy priorities for the coming session, which, he emphasized are subject to what his committee members tell him on his bike/bus/rail tour, which will send him around the perimeter of the state to (at least) Franklin, Orleans, Windham, Bennington and Rutland counties.
Not surprisingly, the 2020 Transportation spending bill is likely to include more action on alternative transportation, he said. McCormack defended this year’s $5.2 million allocate to upgrade the Rutland-Burlington rail line, saying it will save passengers money. He also said the study on the proposed Barre – Montpelier rail upgrade (due in December) shouldn’t be called “the Blittersdorf study,” even though the renewable power developer has many self-propelled railcars that he publicly has said would be a good fit for a Barre – Montpelier commuter line. Rep. Dr. George Till’s (D-Jericho/Underhill) mandatory bike helmet law probably won’t get much of a look this year, but he likes H239, co-sponsored by Rep. Brian Smith (R-Derby), to increase fines on distracted driving, particularly in work zones.
Others bills still before House Transportation include H38, the Primary Seat Belt law (police may stop operators not wearing seat belts), two Burlington International Airport governance and noise bills introduced by South Burlington Rep. Maida Townsend, and H255 and 277, both taxes on gasoline for renewable transportation infrastructure. Also “on the wall” is H476, prohibiting Dept. of Motor Vehicles from revealing immigration status to federal authorities.
As reported in detail by Headliners May 31, H529 draws from state, federal and VW settlement funding sources to allocate:
- $2.65 million next year to design and/or build nine park and ride facilities totaling 554 new parking spaces.
- $18.8 million in 2020 spending for 77 bike and pedestrian construction, design, or right-of-way projects.
- a 17.2% increase in public transportation spending, to $36.8 million. Allocations include $1.88 million for two large all-electric transit buses for the Burlington area, and $480,000 for two all-electric small shuttle buses for the Montpelier area.
- An 11% increase in rail spending, including $8 million for Amtrak and $5.2 million for Rutland-Burlington passenger service line infrastructure.
- $1.2 million to complete the $7.5 million multi-modal transit center, bike path, and pedestrian facility in Montpelier.
- Funding to eventually transform the state vehicle fleet to 50% hybrid or plug-in electric. At present 54 of the 734 fleet vehicles fit that description.
- $2 million for subsidizing purchases of plug-in electric vehicles and for repairs of fuel-efficient cars.
The bill also orders state studies on:
- “feebates” (rebating DMV fees) based on miles-per-gallon
- Weight-based vehicle registration fees – the heavier the vehicle, the higher the fee
- Strategies to increase public transit ridership, especially in rural areas
- A regulatory framework for ‘transportation electrification’ – including presumably a PEV equivalent for the gasoline tax.
- Commuter rail between Barre and Montpelier, a project supported by diesel-powered commuter rail car owner and renewable power developer David Blittersdorf.
Finally, H529 authorizes state officials to negotiate a regional Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI) with other states. As reported in December by Headliners, the TCI would create carbon pricing for fossil fuels used in transportation. Rural, wintry Vermont would likely pay more per capita than other states.