VERMONT TRANSPORTATION BOARD
COMMENTS ON TRANSPORTATION-RELATED TOPICS
November 29, 2013
Good day. My name is Tony Redington, citizen of Burlington, Vermont,
20 North Winooski Avenue Apt 2, 05401 Email: TonyRVT99gmail.com, Blog: TonyRVT.blogspot.com.
My background and experience includes extensive public and private service in housing and rail transportation policy development, planning, and administration as well as published research in the fields of the walking mode and various aspects of the modern roundabout with its manifold aspects of its impacts on ground transportation, land use, and safety.
Introduction and Background: the Vermont Transportation Policy Context Today
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on “transportation-related topics” as part of your legislative mandate to hold hearing and submit a report to the Legislature on transportation program related considerations.
First and foremost, transportation programming and finance takes place in a state of chaos at all levels of government today, a condition directly related to the wholesale change in the transportation “marketplace” from dominant car-centric condition dating from end of World War II to the beginning of this century when a new trend of reduced car travel paralleling high rates of growth in public transportation, walking and bicycling modes. This now undeniable change in the marketplace and a new emergent paradigm recognizes and responds to: (1) reducing car travel; (2) increasing development densities to take advantage of non-car travel mode efficiencies; (3) proactively addressing energy conservation, cutting pollutant emissions, and curbing global warming gas generation; (4) attacking economic competitiveness issues related to transportation waste, inefficiencies, and infrastructure deficits involving movement of both of people and goods; and (5) for the first time employing the tools of roundabouts and cycle track to create urban infrastructure enabling freedom of choice for all citizens to walk and bicycle in safety and comfort regardless of skill levels or age.
The backdrop in transportation change particularly can be seen today as high single and double digit growth in urban public transportation and both walking and bicycling modes take place while car travel car travel stagnates or even declines in slow growth areas of the nation, like New England, other parts of the Northeast and the North Central areas of the nation.
Practically all demographic and economic data nationally as well as Vermont show the chaos and change well advanced and continuing. For examples, the Census projects growth of senior 65-and-over age population through mid-century will be almost 100% while the younger far higher car traveling population grows only 20%. In Vermont Census projects 124% 65-and-over population 2000-2030 increase and under-65 age population up under 2%. Meanwhile in part because of economic factors and part consideration for the environment needs to reduce pollution and energy consumption, all population groups travel by car declines and the young 18-30 age population rate of driving licensing has declined 10%. Here in Vermont employment growth and car ownership plateaus and the last decade of New England car travel change barely edged up 3%.
State Transportation Finance—For the First Time Deserting Car Based Taxes and Fees for General Fund Sources
Except for Massachusetts and Virginia which dumped car oriented taxation this year as the driver for transportation investments, no other states—including Vermont—have responded to the changed transportation marketplace and the required change in funding sources which must be made to provide needed the transportation infrastructure and services of today, much less meet the needs of the future.
The current approach of tinkering with car-oriented taxes to deal with the State’s transportation finance really does compare to the boy sticking his finger in a small crack in dyke to stop an impending flood.
Using Massachusetts as a guide, Vermont needs to tap general funds for transportation about $90 million a year. Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick is in the process of announcing their first year of $890 million in projects from non-highway oriented revenue source funding. Using the Massachusetts appropriation on a pro rata population basis, a Vermont $90 million yearly can fund within a five year period, for examples: capital costs of commuter rail services along three corridors (Montpelier, Middlebury and St. Albans); other intercity services (such as a feeder passenger service from Bennington); capital costs for one light rail line (such as an east-west and north-south line within Burlington and a Rutland line north-south connecting the Mall to the downtown shopping area to the northern edge of the residential areas); a down payment on the major costs necessary to for the first time provide infrastructure making downtowns and village center both walkable and bikable (principally through roundabout and cycle track along corridors, town centers and areas); and, finally, long—but not least--deferred investments in bridges and other highway infrastructure.
These examples assume no federal matching funds and availability of federal funds expands the possible scope of annual investments.
One additional aside on United States transportation finance. Of the roughly $100 billion spent annually on all highway construction and maintenance, the user pays only 62% with the balance coming from property taxes, general fund taxes and other non-highway related taxation (see FHWA “Highway Statistics 2010, Table HF 1). (For this reason Vermont town highway grants supposed to support street maintenance and improvements needs to be substantially increased and and formulas revised to take into consideration such factors as lane miles year round cycle track and sidewalk as well as overall traffic volumes to reflect relative maintenance costs.) Today there exists little relationship between the user costs placed on the highway system versus revenues—whether those user costs on the system are weight related measured by routine cost allocation updates, maintenance costs at the town level mostly property tax supported, or social costs at all levels.
Because the majority of states—over 30—restrict use of highway related taxes and fees to highway use only, for highway finance to change in a way which meets national needs, federal taxation—particularly of gasoline and related highway imposts—must be expanded. If the States—in this case Vermont—were able to employ a European level gasoline tax of $4 gallons instead of about twenty-five cents, a revenue stream of $800 million which mostly would be allocated for general fund expenditure. Because of state to state competition enacting a large gas tax is not possible—and only a federal gas tax re-distributed to the states and easily bypass states constitutional restrictions of their own auto-oriented taxes to highway use only.
Specific Recommendations for Immediate Transportation
There follows here specific policies, activities and changes recommended for Vermont transportation programming today.
1. Start an Ambus between St. Albans and Montreal connecting with the Vermonter which will immediately reduce overall State support costs to Amtrak and add back the 10,000 annual passengers per year lost when the bus connection ended. Impact: reduce State annual support requirements for the two Amtrak services initially by about $400,000.
2. Accelerate the schedule of extending the Ethan Allen service from Rutland to Burlington—immediately preferred by 2016 at the latest—the 2017 schedule now represents a two-decade timeline to extend the service the 80 miles between the two Vermont cities. Impact: While little change in annual State support costs would likely occur, numbers of annual passengers would increase and overall economic benefits to the Rutland, Addison, and Chittenden Counties would be significant.
3. Immediately revise current regional public transportation providers routes and schedules to provide connectivity to Amtrak passenger train stations throughout the State. Impact: Coordinating public transit connections with Amtrak trains would increase slightly the passengers numbers on Amtrak trains with resulting economic benefits to the regions surrounding the stations and a slight reduction in the State’s annual Amtrak support costs.
II Commuter Rail and Intercity Rail Passenger Services
As part of a “Vermont All-Mode Transportation Initiative of General Fund revenues annually dedicated to transportation: (1) initiate commuter rail service between Burlington and Middlebury, Montpelier and St. Albans; (2) initiate a “circuit train”, Burlington-Rutland-Bellows Falls—White River Junction—Montpelier-Burlington designed as the foundation for a full intercity rail passenger service with connections along all existing rail corridors; (3) a north-south light rail line in Rutland from the south end Mall via the City center area through the upper residential area; and (4) create full connectivity between rail services and the routes and services of regional transportation service providers. Impact: Each worker using these services on a 20 mile one-way commute in place of solo driving increases after tax income (between Burlington and St. Albans, for example), a 40 mile commute $7,000 (between Burlington and Montpelier, for example). Note a study I authored earlier this year, “An Action Outline for Commuter Rail Passenger Service along Three Burlington Corridors” provides a complete market, capital cost, and operating cost analysis for Chittenden County-Washington County, Chittenden County-Franklin County and Addison County-Chittenden County commuter rail service.
III Vermont All-Mode Transportation Initiative (VAMTI)
Establish a “Vermont All-Mode Transportation Initiative (VAMTI), a yearly appropriation starting at a $90 million level from General Fund revenues dedicated to transportation with a multi-purpose approach including: (1) economic development; (2) transportation sustainability (with emphasis on land use transportation relationships); (3) energy conservation and pollution reduction; (4) downtown, town center, and urban investments in walkable and bikable infrastructure, particularly roundabouts and cycle track; (4) reduction motor vehicle travel through investments in demand management; and (5) transportation safety upgrades.
IV Urban and Town Center Walking and Bicycling Infrastructure: Cycle Track and Roundabouts to Move Busy Vermont Streets to Walkable and/or Bikable Status
Vermont city downtowns, town centers generally show the same pattern of lack of walkability and bikability found throughout North America. Notable Vermont exceptions include: (1) Church Street Marketplace, Burlington’s four-block walkable mall dating from 1981 with shared space intersection areas for all modes; (2) walkable town center roundabout nodes in Montpelier and Middlebury; (3) bikable and walkable cycle tracked Dorset Street between Williston Road and Kennedy Drive in South Burlington (though not served by any roundabout intersections); (4) Vermont’s first walkable street, Main Street along the corridor of three roundabouts in Manchester Center completed in 2012; and (5) arguably, walkable/bikable shared paths along Stone Cutter’s Way in Montpelier, Riverside Avenue in Burlington and Kennedy Drive in South Burlington—again several street segments without any roundabouts at key intersections.
Walkable and bikable streets provide for all users regardless of age, skill or disability safe and comfortable accommodation for both modes along street segments and at intersections. Street segments attain walkable and bikable status through presence of separate cycle track and sidewalk, or in combination which can include accommodation on a side path. Generally, to attain walkable and/or bikable status each key intersection accommodation is supplied by a pathed roundabout for both modes or through traffic calming. Generally, signalized busy intersections, lack of sidewalks, and unprotected bike lanes signify the type of busy streets which a minimum standard of walkability or bikability.
Address the almost complete lack of bikable and walkable urban, downtown and village center busy streets through: (1) initiation immediately of a roundabout/cycle track program as a the major thrust of the “bicycle pedestrian” program along with an initial allocation of $10 million annually from the Vermont All-Mode Transportation Initiative (VAMTI); (2) initiate regional planning projects identifying all urban and town center streets and corridors to be sidewalked/cycle tracked/roundabouted into walkable and bikable status and prioritizing projects the corridors, areas and nodes so identified; and (3) since pathed roundabouts and cycle track when installed along with sidewalks comprises the very definition of a “complete street”, incorporate these three elements through revisions to existing projects where appropriate as well as in all new urban, town center, and downtown projects with priorities for funding guided by town and regional plans. Comparing the cycle track, about two miles in Vermont, versus the Netherlands on a per capita basis the Dutch have 670 miles of cycle track versus Vermont’s 2 miles.
Finally, state transportation agency policies and regulations need to be revised to reflect the superior safety and service of roundabouts and provision of walkable/bikable busy urban street treatments in all projects. Note three state transportation departments (New York State DOT since 2005) and two Canadian province departments operate on a “roundabouts first policy” and a similar approach needs to be adopted in law and Vermont state agency policies and regulations. It is noteworthy that a search of the Vermont Agency of Transportation website of “roundabout” response is the site lacks any information at all.
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on Vermont’s transportation-related topics.