Fund a truly resilient transportation solution for Vermont.

This commentary is by Mark Klinedinst of Colchester. He is a Ph.D. emeritus professor of economics and a volunteer member of the Sierra Club transportation team. (Originally published in Vermont Digger)

In July floods took out roads, bridges, businesses and homes. Just 12 years earlier, Hurricane Irene in 2011 was another “100-year” flood and caused extensive damage (Washington Post, July 13, 2023).  Climate change is making these storms worse and more frequent.

We can either build the same things in the same places, or fund a truly resilient transportation solution for Vermont.

  • Resiliency is planning 15-minute walkable communities so people can get what they need when the roads are washed out.
  • Resiliency is infrastructure for trains and buses and bikes that doesn’t get washed out.
  • Resiliency is building a Vermont transportation system that doesn’t make climate change worse.

Opponents will say that we just have to build back what was damaged with a little bit more flood protection. But no protection will stand up against the force of so-called 100-year floods that pound the same area every 15 years and probably more often in the future.

The way to resiliency is to start building a Vermont that isn’t reliant on merely moving cars on the same roads that keep getting damaged. It’s reclaiming the Vermont train system of the 1920s, it’s walkable communities and it’s making sure that our tax dollars aren’t subsidizing a system that’s making climate change worse.

Vehicle electrification and the infrastructure to support it is a part of the resilient solution.

According to a recent article in the New York Times, “electric vehicle sales are growing faster than any other major category of automobile.” Public chargers for these new cars will help make the transition to cleaner transport quicker and help cut our emissions.

Electrification can help make our grid more resilient, too. For example, South Burlington’s electric school buses could provide a boost to our electric grid when faced with transmission lines down or spikes in demand. EV buses have the extra advantage of reducing air pollution that is linked to higher rates of childhood asthma and cancers.

Designing people-oriented neighborhoods that give families the option to walk, bike or take public transportation is part of the resilient solution.

These solutions look like streets that offer safe routes for biking and pedestrians, electric chargers and incentives for electric vehicles and electric bikes, affordable public urban and rural transportation. These changes have the added benefit of attracting forward-thinking industries such as the electric aircraft company Beta Technologies and its new nearly-200,000-square-foot production facility expansion. This new company shows what kind of synergies can happen as we move to greater electrification and people-oriented neighborhoods.

This winter, when our state legislators are working to fix up our state, they need to advance solutions that are truly resilient and help us build a future we can all be proud of.