FINANCING VERMONT TRANSPORTATION NEEDS
As Vermont transportation funding—even just matching a thin federal funding stream—reaches a crisis point the traditional approach of just increasing gas taxes, vehicle taxes and fees no longer addresses a changed marketplace. Governor Deval Patrick this week in a radical departure from the past points to a new path to fund highway, public transit and highway needs—he rejected a 19-cent gas tax increase and calls for transportation and other infrastructures needs funded by an income tax increase.
Vermont faces two sharply divided trends--a slow but relentless decline in car travel and associated revenues and rapid increases in public transit and Amtrak growth plus demands for new Amtrak, commuter bus and commuter rail services. Literally hundreds of Vermont workers abandon driving their cars each year for bus and other ways to get to work. Now Link commuter buses started about a decade ago number 50 from Montpelier, St. Albans and Middlebury to Burlington carrying nearing 500 commuters each workday.
Let’s separate the funding of highway and transit/Amtrak since each area—one in slow decline and the other growing like topsy—require different treatment. Before raising more highway revenues the Legislature needs to find out who wears out the roads, who is responsible for costs—cars and various truck types. Armed with that information, revenues can be increased or decreased fairly for all highway users. How to downsize the highway system and its costs needs to be looked at—not just revenue increases.
Meanwhile, transit and rail passenger services really are regional and statewide services and deserve needed additional resources to accommodate the shift of “business” there from the car and highway set. The Legislature needs to focus on the transportation “customer”, how to serve those customers needs (particularly those traveling to and from work). And the Legislature needs to look at transportation as a “market” just highways with transit, bicycle, walker, and rail transportation afterthoughts.