Category Archives: Transportation

Did Phil Scott break the law this morning, or just bend it?

The official Phil Scott Twitter account sent this out today.

That’s some dedication there, being out on a chilly October morning, waving the signs just a few feet away from interstate freeway traffic…

… hm.

In many places, it’s illegal for candidates to stand that close to the freeway. Looks like Phil’s most enthusiastic companion is only a few feet from the right of way, and the candidate himself is about ten feet off the pavement.

But is it illegal for Team Scott to be standing in that particular location? Unclear.

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No, it’s really not “your town”

The good people of Shelburne are in a tizzy because their blessed gemeinschaft might be tainted by the slightest hint of industrialization. The Burlington Free Press, which pays no mind to antiwar protests but is always anxious to report the plight of affluent subscribers:

Protesters against a project that would place a salt transfer and storage facility near the LaPlatte River in Shelburne donned rain gear and gathered at the Shelburne Community School on Sunday afternoon to make their voices heard.

Horrors!

You know, I have a lot of trouble ginning up outrage on behalf of comfortable, affluent white folks, which is basically the population of Shelburne. (Lookin’ at you, Bruce Lisman!) Especially when I read the overwrought rhetoric of Selectboard chair Gary von Stange:

“This is our town,” von Stange said. “This is our state. These are our lives and our children. This is our community. Champlain is our lake. The LaPlatte is our river. We not only have the right, we have the obligation to fight for our children and our children’s children. There is no compromising when it comes to safety.”

Oh, for God’s sake. Our lives? Our children? Our lake? Our river? All under threat because of a facility that will be invisible and almost inaudible? When its operator promises to abide by strict environmental standards?

This is the kind of apocalyptic verbiage that gives environmentalism a bad name. Do we really have to fight every development as if it will somehow transform Vermont into a Mad Max hellscape?

But that’s not the real problem here. The real problem is that railways enjoy the most all-encompassing, ironclad property rights of just about any entity you can think of.

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With friends like these

With apologies to Mr. Harwood.

Early front-runner for Sound Bite of the Campaign Season is former Governor Jim Douglas. He had given a hearty endorsement speech at Phil Scott’s campaign launch; afterward, VTDigger’s Mark Johnson asked him what issue Scott is identified with.

Douglas’ short answer: “Uh, you’ve stumped me.”

That’s bad. The actual audio is worse. You can hear it at VTDigger, but here’s a transcript:

Johnson: So what’s the issue you identify him with?

Douglas: The issue I identif — ? Dunno if there’s a specific issue, um, we talked about some today, but uh [pause] uh, you stumped me. Again.

[facepalm]

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Minter’s pickle

Had a chat with Transportation Secretary Sue Minter about the discrimination lawsuit filed last week by three former VTrans workers. It creates a real dilemma for her; as head of the agency, she’s constrained from addressing the facts of the case. But as a potential gubernatorial candidate, she can’t be seen as anything less than fully supportive of LGBT employment rights, and she certainly can’t even be suspected of tolerating a culture of, ahem, intolerance.

I understand her situation, but that doesn’t make it any less pressing. It’s the fundamental problem with being an administration official while also exploring a candidacy: your first responsibility is to your employer. I imagine that’s why Deb Markowitz decided she had to choose one or the other.

“Obviously, I cannot comment on the specifics of the case,” she said, and added: “Any allegation of discrimination or harassment is very disturbing, and we take it seriously.” She then pivoted to the steps she’s taken to ensure a welcoming workplace.

“When I came into this job, I learned of some very well-known cases that had gone to the Human Rights Commission. I became very concerned. I’ve visited garages, driven snowplows, washed bridges, I’ve been a flagger. I’ve observed so many things, most of them positive, but I know that in any large organization, not everyone is on the same page.

… “We’ve worked hard to build a culture of diversity and tolerance. There is a very clear zero-tolerance policy. We reinforce that through trainings, and make sure everyone understands that the agency should be free of harassment and discrimination. …We’ve made it clear to managers and supervisors that they should respect all complaints. … About one year ago, we updated the Equal Employment Opportunity policy to include gender identity and transgender status as protected classes.”

Which is all very well, but I have a hard time believing the three plaintiffs fabricated their complaints. There’s no real upside to filing a baseless lawsuit or to allowing yourself to be publicly identified as a complainer.

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This could take a little air out of the Sue Minter balloon

Of all the state’s cabinet positions, the Agency of Transportation is one of the friendlier posts for an ambitious politico. Everybody’s in favor of roads and highways, including conservative Republicans. A lot of your funding comes from the feds. You make friends with the generous donors in the construction business. You get to do a whole lot of high-profile announcements and ribbon-cuttings. You get to look strong and purposeful in times of trouble.

It’s unlikely that, say, Human Services would be a stepping stone to higher office. (Just ask Doug “Sacrificial Lamb” Racine.) But Transportation Secretary Sue Minter? She’s got high hopes for the governorship, or so it is said.

Which is not to say that trouble can’t erupt, seemingly out of nowhere. Dan D’Ambrosio of the Burlington Free Press:

Three former employees of the Vermont Agency of Transportation say they were verbally abused — and in one case physically abused — and passed over for promotions and pay raises because they are gay and lesbian.

Oopsie. The three, who all quit to get away from the abuse, have filed a discrimination lawsuit. The details are not pretty.

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What’s your favorite boondoggle?

Hey look, the state’s talking about boosting passenger trains! Cue the Republican Outrage Machine.

The [Vermont] Agency of Transportation has issued its first statewide rail plan in nearly a decade. The proposal envisions new passenger routes to Burlington, Montreal, Manchester and Bennington…

… The combined price tag for the 20-year plan totals $665 million, well more than the $380 million in state and federal funding anticipated over the same time frame.

I can hear it now: a waste of taxpayer dollars! Unconscionable subsidies for a bygone system! Passenger rail serves only a small affluent clientele of train buffs!

Republicans, after all, have been trying to kill Amtrak for years because they believe passenger rail should pay its own way.

Which sounds nice in theory, makes a good sound bite. Problem is, there isn’t a transportation system of any kind that can stand on its own two feet. They all require massive subsidization.

Roads and highways, well, that’s easy. Construction and upkeep is entirely a taxpayer-funded enterprise, with the very occasional exception of toll roads. If we actually apportioned the costs on the basis of usership, the cost of long-distance trucking would go through the roof. Cargo trains would suddenly seem like a bargain by comparison. And if inter-city commutes reflected their true costs, well, let’s just say CCTA would have to greatly expand its LINK service.

But air travel is the big enchilada. An airport manager once told me, “Airports inherently lose money.” The infrastructure and security costs are borne by taxpayers, most of whom rarely or never use the facilities. (Talk about taking from the poor and giving to the rich.)

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Bunched Knicker Syndrome Strikes Top Solon

BKS: “a sense of heightened distress keenly felt by the self-important following a minor annoyance.”

Kudos to WCAX-TV’s Kyle Midura for coming up with a frothy little confection of a political story that’s sweet to the taste, vanishes in the mouth like a good meringue, and leaves you wanting just one more bite. Or maybe the whole damn pie.

The story’s about the Tuesday “news event” featuring Congressman Peter Welch and Transportation Secretary Sue Minter at a photogenically decrepit bridge in East Montpelier. They were backdropped by lime green and orange-vested construction workers as they bemoaned the lack of Congressional action on long-term transportation funding.

And it seems that there are some hurt fee-fees from a pair of politicos who think they ought to have been invited. Republican Pat Brennan, chair of the House Transportation Committee, and might-as-well-be-a-Republican Dick Mazza, chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, were left jonesin’ for a little camera time.

“We are heavily involved, so you would think we would’ve been asked to be there,” said Rep. Pat Brennan, R-Colchester.

As for Mazza, he cemented his well-earned reputation as the least Democratic of all Democrats by complaining that the presser included a partisan attack on Republicans in Congress. That’s right: a Democrat accusing Democrats of playing politics. The horror!

“I was told that it was a non-partisan news conference, but I didn’t see anyone other than the Democrats,” said Mazza.

Wait wait. He “was told”? That seems to imply he knew about the presser in advance. If so, he’s got no complaint. But let’s move on.

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