March 21, 2010 -- Sen. Dick Mazza, D-Chair of Senate Transportation, and Rep. Patrick Brennan, R-Chair of House Transportation, join Kristin Carlson and Darren Perron to talk about the transportation budget, the state of Vermont roads, and other transportation issues.
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>> And good morning everyone I'm Darren Perron.
>> I'm Kristin Carlson.
New rules for the road are being proposed in Montpelier.
What's likely to pass, that's our topic today.
We will discuss that with our news maker senator Dick Mazza and representative pat Brennan.
>> Will have your neighbors in the news.
A wild ride in lake Placid.
Unlikely start for a snowboarding champ.
You have heard about the Iditarod.
What about the IKITAROD.
>> We are here to talk to Representative Brennan and Senator Dick Mazza, both chair the transportation committee.
Something Senator Dick Mazza has done for 20 years.
Thank you so much for being here.
>> Thanks for having us.
>> Typically see you in Montpelier.
Thanks for coming up to the studio.
biggest issue on people's minds is the transportation budget.
We will start with you.
I understand you are close to passing something out.
>> We passed it out last night.
Went to the printers and on the floor this morning for introduction.
>> And what are the highlights, what do people need to know?
>> I think some of the key issues are the increases to state bridge programs, town bridges; we are rehabilitating about 107 bridges this summer.
Part of that a result of the stimulus second phase of the stimulus package.
We are paving about 107 miles of interstate, state and miscellaneous highways.
That's an increase of about 50%.
So, I think the people of Vermont will see ‑‑ will be able to notice and see the ‑‑ the improvements in the infrastructure this year when they drive through Vermont.
>> Would you have been at this a long time too, two decades.
>> We are making progress.
The last few years we really had made a lot of progress.
We have dropped over 100 million dollars in paving last year.
We will do 100 million again this year which is the greatest I have ever seen.
We have spent our budget is up, oh, a couple hundred thousand dollars from a few years ago.
stimulus has helped out considerably.
Dells might the economy, transportation is doing quite well.
So I think we are ‑‑ we should be proud of the progress we are making.
I know there are still a lot of roads to fix and bridges to fix, but I think we are doing very well.
>> You have been working opt transportation budget of course.
Also all session long.
Some similarities here or different priorities to where the senate is going?
>> I think we will come together quite quickly this year.
I think the money is pretty much laid out, what we have to spend.
We have a ‑‑ a couple different choices.
We've got to fix the bridge.
And so, I think with the focus on spending the last of the stimulus money and next year might be different, but this year I think we are on track to pretty much agree on the bill.
>> Well, the reason that the state has this money, representative Brennan, is it bus of the federal stimulus dollars?
all we hear about the economic crisis, $150 million deficit.
Is the reason the transportation fund is a little healthier because you guys looked at cuts a few years and now things have stabilized?
>> We D I think things have stabilized and the bulk of it is the result of stimulus money.
In rail we just received a nice package from the federal government.
Of 52 million dollars.
That will go a long way in improving our rail infrastructure but in general I think the stimulus package is helping.
And the realization of the seriousness of the situation, the infrastructure is obviously ‑‑ has been neglected over time and we have fallen behind the 8 ball.
In the past few years there we have made a dramatic comeback and it will be a long road, but this ‑‑ this package stimulus package will definitely go a long way to getting us there.
>> Our state has been ‑‑ we have spent our money quite rapidly and wisely.
We are setting an example for the rest of the nation.
We received the money and put it out to bids.
The bids have been coming in lower than expected.
We had last year a $25 million underbidding on project.
We had extra because bidding was very competitive so with that in mind we have been ail to do a lot of things I think that we won be able to do.
I think we have done public transportation, DUNELD that budget in the last few years.
From 12 to 24 million dollars.
We have routes now in public transportation to muddle bury, St. Albans, Montpelier, Milton, so a lot of areas have expanded and done well.
>> I know as of last year a third of the state's roads were in poor condition.
We had over 100 bridges that were structurally deficient, had some problems.
How did we get here?
>> Well I think it is over the years like representative Brennan said, think over the years we had years where we didn't have a lot of money and you know, sooner or later if you don't keep up and you go behind and we had a lot of money being transferred in the transportation fund to the general fund, and so it doesn't take long if you don't do 65, 70 million dollars a year in paving, to get behind.
If we can maintain 100 million dollar paving budget for a few years, we are gonna get there.
it is going to happen.
>> And I think on the bridge side of it, Kristin, the flood of '27, bridges were all built as new tame.
‑‑ at the same time.
The interstate bridge system, the Eisenhower system when it was built, all those bridges were built in a short period of time so they are all coming due kind inform a lump.
It is going to take us a while to dig out of it.
We haven't got the funds to replace them all at the same time but those two key factors contributed to the situation we are now in with bridges.
>> Well, of course, the big bridge that got so much attention is the Champlain bridge.
And I understand New York maintains that.
that's not Vermont's responsibility but you guys are ‑‑ you know you have the inside information on what is happening in the transportation agency and with bridges.
Are you worried that that could happen here?
>> Here meaning?
>> In Vermont.
Do we have any bridges that are really ‑‑
>> We have a very strict safety program.
And it is updated very often.
And I don't think we are in a situation where we are going to lose ‑‑ number one we won't lose a bridge that of size.
If it will be a bridge, a smaller bridge we will have to replace.
But bridges that size, there are only two of them.
We won't be faced with another bridge of that magnitude of 100 million dollars.
So I'm comfortable with the safety program that we have, that we ‑‑ we do have a good system that checks them out and if there is something that is dangerous, we are going to adjust that immediately.
>> It is interesting, you are a Republican, a Democrat.
You both chair the transportation committee's house and senate respectively.
When it comes to transportation issues, is this really just numbers and putting the money where it needs to go?
>> I think it is all about numbers.
We have got a job to do.
And a certain amount of money to do with it and we put politics aside pretty much when we sit at the table and try to ‑‑
>> Might add that even in past chairs of the house, everyone is interested in the overall state of the roads and bridges in Vermont.
I never found ‑‑
>> You must hear an earful out and B we do here.
Peep calling us ‑‑
>> You will always have that.
You will have the potholes and spring heaves and you are going to have the winter maintenance what ‑‑ and so that's the nature of it.
You will never get to a point where there won't be any complaints, but you deal with the worst and try to do the best.
>> I believe it was last year the legislature passed an increase in the gas tax that could mean about 70, 80 bucks more per person.
Has that really put an infusion of money that's helped solve this problem or just sort of been disbursed and spent in a way that maybe people can't feel?
It had a very Nair owe ‑‑ narrow window of projects that it could be used for.
We had realized approximately I think 22 million dollars from that where we ‑‑ in our proposal, includes bonding this year for about 13.5 million.
So, yeah, this is ‑‑ this is going to go a long way to bring us back in our infrastructure back into I would say maybe a fair condition.
The ‑‑ the bonding money that we are proposing, again, I ‑‑ I would tell you that it ‑‑ all these moneys can use ‑‑ they have a very narrow window and can only be used on projects that are good for 30 years or more.
So bridge infrastructure, buildings, state buildings, ALT buildings, transportation buildings, it is a wise choice of money and so far it is working.
>> Gas tax?
did it work?
It added some money.
And I guess if you look at the economy, in the purchase and use sales tax was down on automobiles, people weren't buying automobiles.
I think we have ‑‑ we would have been in real tough shape.
We didn't do as bad as the general economy did in Vermont.
We are only probably a million dollars behind forecast over the year.
From rev news.
But ‑‑ and automobiles are starting to sell again.
But without the ‑‑ a little ‑‑ I think we would have been in deep trouble.
>> Any sense of what could happen next year if there isn't a second federal stimulus, what will happen with the transportation budget?
>> Well, Washington is working on a new budget for us and we don't know what that is going to mean.
They should have it out this fall.
They may extend it until January, but that will tell us pretty much whether we get more.
We may get more federal money.
It is an issue nationwide.
All states are talking about it.
There is a big move in Congress to boost the transportation funding throughout the country by a huge amount but the issue, they haven't found a way to fund it.
Obama, president Obama is not for the gas tax.
So they have to find a way how they will fund a new proposal.
So I think we will do well in the new round but we don't know that until fall so I can give you a better answer there.
>> Something I hear a lot about here in the newsroom, people call us all the time in the winter through road conditions, people seem very convinced that something different has been happening in the past few years where conditions aren't plowed.
They don't see salt, sand trucks.
Do you think budget cuts have hit the agency in how they maintain the road Q
we haven't changed our policy at all as far as roads.
A lot of people public anyway, are under the assumption that we have the bare roads policy.
We do not have a bare roads policy and haven't for I'm thinking 20 years.
It is a long time.
>> The amount of salt we use ‑‑ what we had this year were a couple of vents.
You know where it was ‑‑ we call them events.
A rain event, turned to 30 degrees immediately, the roads froze.
And those events and then you get a little snow on top of that.
those are tough to maintain.
So I would attribute some of the complaints from the public to that.
>> All right.
One difference between the house and the senate has to do with how to deal with the safety bill that has to do with should you ban texting, ban cell phones, should you change when junior drivers can drive.
The house taking one approach the senate taking a different approach.
Senator I know you are interested primarily in just banning text being.
What will happen with that?
>> Well, the senate did pass banning text being.
We thought it was important to address early on which we D we hope to have it into law before town meeting day.
The house has added other items to the bill and so we will have to work our way through it. They have added cell phone ‑‑ ban on cell phone usage and a curfew on young drivers from midnight until 5 a.m. in the morning.
The seat belt ‑‑ I have a difficult job with that one because the federal government said to us, if you can reach 85% compliance, we will give you federal money and we have ‑‑ we have reached 86%.
So, I don't know how much better we could do if we had a primary enforcement.
I think there comes a time when you have to use some common sense and you know, do something on your own because we are doing 86% compliance.
>> Well, the house will just go with texting or holding firm on that?
>> Well, believe, and I will add that this bill did not come not house transportation or to the judiciary, but ‑‑
>> But I think that the house will hold firm on that.
there was a firm commitment by the speaker, and the members of the leadership, to hold firm on that.
And they ‑‑ they are committed to the package.
>> So that could mean like what has happened in the past when nothing gets passed because there has been consensus on texting for a couple years.
And it is just the other components that seem to create friction.
>> I hope we come to some agreement.
Too important to leave there without addressing texting.
We had public hearings on it and it was some good testimony.
Passed the senate 30‑0 or 28‑0.
So I really hope we can address it.
And I'm hopeful we can make ‑‑ make some progress.
>> And any idea of banning texting passed unanimously in the house as well?
>>> They took it out and re‑put it back together in the bill.
One other question sort of off topic.
You have been in the senate now for a long time.
A lot of senators are running for governor.
How has that changed the tone at the statehouse?
>> Well, I think probably the next 3, 4 weeks we maybe see more of it than you have.
It hasn't been that bad.
I'm surprised that ‑‑ I think they have done a ‑‑ everyone is handling themselves real well.
They are looking out for the interests.
A tight year.
There is no money.
it is hard to make promises.
As you know the budget is behind about 150 million dollars.
Every candidate that I know of that is running for governor or Lieutenant Governor, I haven't seen anything yet that is ‑‑ has said that there is a ‑‑ they are trying to cut deals or promote deals.
It is a tough time.
And I don't think that they can make promises then can't keep.
>> All right.
We will leave it there.
And continue to talk about this issue which I know a lot of Vermonters are tracking.
Thank you both for your time.
>> Thank you for having us.
>> Now here is Darren with our neighbors in the news.
>> Thank you, Kristen.
You have probably never tried sledding like this.
We will check it out next.
>>> The Olympics may be over but the village of Lake Placid didn't get the message.
If there is snow, one winter sport never stops.
Keagan Harsha explains.
>> Every winter, just like clock working Lake Placid becomes a winter paradise.
But if traditional winter sports aren't your thing, well, this might be.
An activity perhaps best described
>> Hold on tight.
>> As sledding on steroids.
>> You just kind of like sliding down and you just get on the sides and it is so exhilarating.
>> Built in 1964, the toboggan chute is a 30‑foot‑tall converted ski jump.
Locals call it a hidden gem of sorts which may come as a surprise once you've heard just how loud these people get.
Unlimited trips down the icy chute cost just $5 per person.
The fun begins with a climb to the top.
>> What goes up,
>> The rope will go right in your lap
>> Must come down.
>> There we go.
>> And this case it is speeds close to 40 miles an hour.
>> It is something out of this world.
Like you don't expect it.
It doesn't look too fast when you first start.
>> Warning signs are any indicator I probably shouldn't be trying this, but I figure if a 5 year old can do it, I might as well try it.
>>> The ride ends on frozen mirror lake.
Where on a good day sledders can slide as far as a thousand feet across the ice.
>> Sometimes I like to give them a little scare and tell them watch out for the hole in the lake.
>> There aren't very many sports where you can go this fast and there is no skill required.
>> It is great.
It is fast.
>> And I like to go fast.
But not be scared.
>> It is the perfect activity for young and old, dog or feline.
From a frozen winter wonderland.
>> Making families closer, one sled ride at a time.
>> It is Lake Placid.
And the beauty of toboggan chute is just about anyone can do it.
It is currently closed because of warmer weather.
But the parks department hopes to reopen it just as soon as the temperatures turn a little colder.
Keagan Harsha, channel 3 news in Burlington.
>> At this point you may have to wait until next year.
The U.S. open snowboarding championships are wrapping up today at the mountain.
YALE is competing in the event but he didn't learn to ride at a fancy snowboarding academy or even at a mountain.
He is home grown talent.
As Seth reports.
>> Vermont is the home of snowboarding.
And YALE learned to snowboard at home.
>> I have got an amazing spot here to ride.
No lesson or anything.
Just, you know, a couple of friends learning from each other.
Feed offing each other's progression.
>> He would come out and we would come out with our hearts in our throats and watch him.
Watch him come down off those steep hills in the woods.
Come court of careening down through the trees.
We never had seen anything like that in all of a sudden our son was doing it.
>> And doing it well.
Along with friends Eric, josh and Chris, they were pulling off tricks in this backyard ten years before anyone tried them in competition.
>> Being out here with my friends, Chris and josh and all those guys, just one person would try a 7 and somebody else would do a 9 and then the next person would ‑‑ I got to try a 10 now.
So just progress off each other.
>> During the Olympics so much was made about Shawn Whit and that mysterious half pipe in the mountains of Colorado.
he didn't have the luxury of a foam pit.
He learned all his tricks right here on this rail in his backyard in Lincoln, Vermont.
>> Taken the easy route to learn but it is whatever.
Some people do it on ice and snow.
Some people do it in a foam pit.
>> Some do it in down found Burlington surrounded by concrete and metal.
>> I'm not doing double corks in the pipe.
But I think falling down some stairs has probably hurts a little more than landing upside down in a foam pit.
>> He doesn't fall much but he does win.
He just won a huge competition in Italy.
He is in Seattle now before returning home for the U.S. hope next week at Stratton.
>> Competing in it for I don't know, 6 or 7 years now but I've been going and watching for like 13 years.
And it is an amazing time every year
>> And it its amazingly difficult for his parents to watch.
>> What's it like, what's going through your head?
>> Very nervous.
>> They should all be thankful for this beautiful plot of land in Lincoln
>> Where would you be if it weren't for this backyard do you think?
>> I would be ‑‑ I don't know working in the lip balm factory maybe.
Somewhere other than riding.
>> Riding a lot cooler than making lip balm.
>> Alaska's Iditarod attracts dog musher from all over the world.
Students took part in a somewhat similar race.
It is called the Ikitarod.
Bridget has the details.
>> 4, 3, 2, 1.
>> And they're off.
6 dogs and their musher in the sled.
It is their version of the Iditarod sled dog race.
Welcome to the Ikitarod at union middle school.
A rite of passage for 8th graders here.
Studying the book winter dance by Gary Paulson.
A work of nonfiction about the 1000‑mile trek through the Alaskan wilderness.
>> This book is full of action.
It is full of real life experiences.
It is very candid in terms of what Gary actually experiences on the trail.
So the kids absolutely love the book.
And then of course this activity has just been such a fun way for them to actually do it for themselves.
>> And what they are doing is traversing through a mile and a half of trails up and down through steep terrain with 8 different checkpoints.
>> They have a fire‑making station where the mushers will have to actually make fire.
And prove that they can do that.
not tying check point.
There they have to tie two different types of knots that are appropriate for gang lines.
>> All 15 teams must hit every station and on the way they encounter four‑legged friends.
Just like the real thing.
Here then find bread baking in an oven and feeding their appetite but the musher must take care of the dogs too.
>> Mush her to make us a bed.
We have to lay down for one minute and then we are all set to go.
>> Organizers say this event is an important team builder for these kids.
Before they head off to high school in the fall, students must work together, regardless of social circles or academic teams.
It also brings their classroom studies alive.
>> I really like the book and I'm liking this too because last year all the 8th graders wanted to do it and now we are doing it.
That makes me happy.
>> Brings to it life?
yeah it really does.
>> One by one they made it back a bit tired but exhilarated by their experience in their school's annual Ikitarod.
>> Well, think dogs and winter sports and most of us dog sledding.
Immediately comes to mind but that's not the only way to have fun in the snow with man's best friend.
Keagan harsha offers up an alternative.
>> On a cold snow okay during the dog days of winter, a chess game of sorts is underway inside this lodge.
>> You can have ‑‑
>> Enough to make just about anyone ‑‑
>> Be good
>> Dog gone tired.
>> For Jim Blair, such planning is routine.
He owns 30 dogs.
Dogs that not only pull sleds, but also skiers.
>> They are excited.
>> A sport best known as ski.
>> The dogs need to be leaders.
They need to know their commands and be willing to run ahead of the team.
>> Unlike dog sledding this sport is something pretty much anyone can do.
>> All right.
>> All you need is a harness, some skis, and of course a dog.
>> I work with some of the smarter dogs are poodles or Australian shepherds, cocker spaniels, and
>> I'm ready.
>> After a quick lesson it is off and running.
At least in theory.
>> No, no, no, no.
>> Come on, bear.
Bear, come on
>> Training a dog to pull you is easier said than done.
2, 3 times they usually start to get it.
>> How are we doing?
>> Doing well.
>> A lot of the pet owners train them not to pull on the leash and so now you put them in a harness and they pull you and it is a whole different ballgame.
>> Praise the dogs as much as possible because they are enjoying it.
But if they know that you are happy with them, they will even enjoy it even more.
>> While there is a learning curve for the dogs, learning how to ski with a canine also takes some time
>> Go easy, bear.
>> Climbing is a lost work and knowing how to snowplow is a must.
Crashes are common.
>> Want to be able to control yourselves so you are not interfering with the dogs.
Much better when you stay standing.
>> Seems harder to pick up just the dog was jerking around and I was trying to figure out the balance.
>> Jim Blair skis with as many as 4 dogs at a time.
More dogs doesn't necessarily mean more speeds.
The max is about 20 miles an hour.
But it does mean more power and less work.
>> Good girl.
>> It is the perfect way to enjoy a day with the family pet.
>> Potty break.
>> A combination of dog sledding and skiing winter fun to the extreme in the woods of Vermont.
>> That was fun.
>> Jim Blair offers both dog sledding and ski JORing.
If you want to learn, you do have to bring your own dog.
He first trains them with his dogs as part of a sled team.
A lesson costs anywhere from 300 to a thousand dollars.
Keagan harsha, channel 3 news in Burlington.
>> That would work with your dog right?
>> I have a miniature Dotson.
She probably wouldn't put up with that.
>> She is an inside dog.
A lot come up this week on the channel 3 news at 6.
On Monday Washington December 'comes to bury.
Patrick Leahy and the committee will be holding a hearing about drug crimes.
>> Also on Monday, a debate among the democratic gubernatorial candidates.
Going to focus on mental health, substance abuse and developmental disabilities.
I will be moderating and open to the public.
Starts at 5 p.m. at south Burlington high school.
>> Check it out.
Something to watch.
Until then thanks for sharing part of your Sunday with us.
I'm Darren Perron.
>> I'm Kristin Carlson.
Have a great day.
>> Take care everybody.