Vermont bills cover local road work, highway exit signage

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Vermont lawmakers are considering a variety of issues that would help localities raise more money to pay for road work, change highway exit signage and allow drivers to provide electronic proof of financial responsibility.

Rep. Alice Emmons, D-Springfield, offered a bill that would authorize municipalities to charge a fuel tax of up to 2 cents per gallon. The revenue could be used for local transportation work.

Supporters say that giving local governments control of the tax revenue is the best way to make sure the money is used as needed.

The effort follows adoption one year ago of changes to how the state collects tax on fuel purchases.

Gov. Peter Shumlin signed into law a transportation budget bill to raise about $630 million a year. The state excise tax was increased to 24.9 cents per gallon on gas and 31 cents on diesel.

A 2 percent sales tax was also added to the cost of gas, while the per-gallon tax dropped by about a penny. The change was made to address declining gas sales that result in fewer dollars available for road and bridge work.

Emmons’ bill, H780, to provide more money for local work is in the House Transportation Committee.

A separate bill would change how the state numbers its interstate exits. Vermont now uses chronological numbers for interstate exits.

Sen. Mark MacDonald, D-Orange, offered a bill that would adopt a mileage-based system to number interstate exit signs. The numbering system is used by 43 states.

The mileage-based system is endorsed by the Federal Highway Administration. The agency explains that the system makes it easier for travelers to tell how much distance is between exits, as well as make it easier to know how much further they have to travel to reach their destination.

Advocates contend the mileage-based system would also improve emergency personnel response times by being able to accurately locate victims.

Despite the arguments in favor of a switch, state officials are leery of endorsing the change because the price tag attached to change the numbering system.

To help offset some concerns, the bill would give the state until 2020 to make the change.

S244 is in the Senate Transportation Committee.

The Senate approved another bill that includes multiple changes of note to truckers. Specifically, S314 would bring Vermont into compliance with federal regulations by outlawing truckers’ use of hand-held devices while driving.

Violations would be considered a “serious traffic violation.”

Also included in the bill is a fee schedule for overweight, overwidth, indivisible overlength, and overheight permits.

Another provision would allow drivers to provide law enforcement officers with electronic proof of insurance on smartphones and other similar devices. Drivers would no longer be required to have the traditional paper proof of insurance to avoid a ticket.

Single-trip permit fees would be set at $35 while a blanket permit would cost $100. A fleet blanket permit would be $100 for the first unit and $5 for each additional unit.

One more provision in the bill would increase the maximum surety bond requirement for fuel distributors from $400,000 to $700,000.

Critics say the change could increase the cost of fuel.

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