Legislature to end Champlain Flyer

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(Host) The Douglas administration is shutting down the Champlain Flyer, the commuter rail project in Chittenden County. The train closes down at the end of February, and the decision is receiving mixed reaction at the Statehouse.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) The Douglas administration had signaled its opposition to the train when the governor refused to include any funds for the project in his budget for next year. But few lawmakers expected the administration to move up the timetable for the train’s demise.

The train has been plagued with low ridership but backers of the project argued that more people would use the train once a massive reconstruction of Route 7 was started. However, the timetable for the highway project was delayed by several years.

Transportation Secretary Pat McDonald says the decision to suspend the operations of the train four months ahead of schedule will save the state roughly $600,000:

(McDonald) “The ridership obviously is very low but there’s also additional costs that we really wanted to look at. It’s cost the Flyer $150,000 a month to run and we have expended our federal dollars and now we are looking at state dollars to continue the Flyer through the end of June.”

(Kinzel) Senate Transportation Chairman Dick Mazza says he’s disappointed by the administration’s decision:

(Mazza) “It never had a fair share and that’s what’s disappointing about it. There’s two things: one, it never had a fair evaluation of the construction project on Shelburne Road, which the intent was there. And two, to extend it to Vergennes would have been another, I think, real plus for it.”

(Kinzel) But Shelburne Representative George Schiavone, who was a vocal critic of the train, said the time had come to stop wasting money on a bad project:

(Schiavone) “Essentially one person in state government strong-armed the rest and got the thing through and we know who that one person was: it was Governor Dean, and he just absolutely, it was one of his top priorities. He promised anything, threatened anything to get his rail through and people just crumbled underneath it and kept going with it and it’s about time it stopped.”

(Kinzel) The Douglas administration says it’s not giving up on commuter rail projects in the state but it believes future projects “must provide sustainable passenger demand to support them.”

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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