Transportation Policy (Boring but Critical)

Taking a mini-break from the ongoing “If I Were Governor” series to post my response to a local writer/policy/ex-Reagan guy/ex-VT state senator criticizing Vermont state government’s move toward a cleaner transportation future. He doesn’t like bike paths or solar or spending on electric charging stations. But at bottom (and I should have said this), to say these things is to deny the existence of the climate crisis. So be it. Here’s my piece in the Barre-Montpelier Times Argus, my local paper.

If I Were Governor (Part 3) coming soon.

Here is the link so you can enjoy the TA’s work.


Here is the text:

John McClaughry’s piece in last Sunday’s edition requires a response for its adherence to a status quo economy that got us in our mess in the first place.

First, let’s put aside John’s sarcastic labeling of boogey men and women as “enviros,’’ his belittling of electric transportation and bike/pedestrian projects and David Blittersdorf as a “solar mogul.’’ I get the strategy – belittle and demonize those you disagree with to diminish their work. It is positively Trumpian – but it is beneath Vermonters.

So let’s take the substance of John’s points. In summary, he says the transportation funding bill just passed by the legislature spends too much money on climate change, bike lanes, electric cars and passenger rail upgrades. He complains that the “basic function’’ of the state Agency of Transportation is to preserve and maintain a network of highways…’’

Wrong. The Agency of Transportation, like all state agencies and government itself, is to provide for the safety and welfare of Vermonters.

And this year the legislature decided to make the agency pay more attention and spend more money on priorities around climate change and quality of life. Vermont spends millions each years maintaining roads and bridges so prop up a highway system that is a critical part of our economy. We are spending about $52 million on road projects alone. I think that’s just fine.

But we are now faced with the asteroid of climate change headed straight for us. The impacts will be severe and life-changing. The maples and ash trees around John’s house in Kirby will be gone and life as he knows it will change forever.

So to ask the AOT, with all of its budgetary muscle, to spend some time and money on ways to live in a climate change world is not too much to ask and the legislature should be thanked, not vilified.

Yes – Vermont should reorient its government policies in the direction of the Paris climate agreement. While Vermont can do little to reduce overall carbon in the world, it can move us toward a resiliency that allows us to survive and prosper via the creation of new businesses.

Yes – Vermonters need to get out of their gas and diesel vehicles in favor of electric. Wait until John takes a spin in a new Ford electric truck. It makes diesel trucks look slow and weak. Oh – and I am getting that from the CEO of Daimler, hardly a member of VPIRG.

Yes – the legislature should figure how to use the tax system to move our behavior in better, clearer economic decisions that benefit all of us. We do that with tax policy all the time – as we do with smoking.

Yes – electric shuttles in Burlington and Montpelier. How bout one from the airport?

Yes – to 77 bike-pedestrian projects around the state. You know why young people are not moving here John? Because of a lack of quality of life and jobs. This generation wants amenities. They are unwilling to settle for the Mad Men generation lifestyle. They are smart and creative. They want electric cars, bike paths and quick access to work. That’s not squishy liberalism. That’s common sense.

Yes – to a commuter rail from Barre to Montpelier, linking those two cities, their people and their history. I don’t much care whether it is done by David Bittersdorf or Howard Dean. I care that it gets done because the people of those two communities will prosper because of it.

And lastly – YES to the Transportation Climate Initiative. Vermont may not be able to stop climate change. But by being a player in the debate, it can prepare its citizens for a cleaner, more prosperous future, as opposed to the dirty diesel dominated economy to which John McClaughry clings.