REMARKS OF RICHARD PEMBROKE BEFORE THE
U.S. SENATE COMMITTEE ON ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS
AUGUST 20, 2002
Thank you, Senator Jeffords, for this opportunity to testify before your committee. And thank you, Secretary Jackson, for traveling to Vermont to hear about the challenges we face.
My name is Dick Pembroke and I am the corporate founder of the Pembroke Landscaping Company in Bennington, Vermont. For the past 16 years, I have also represented Bennington in the Vermont Legislature, from a district that comprises a constituency of two incorporated villages within the Town of Bennington who have the same infrastructure needs. I have been a member of the House Transportation Committee throughout that time, serving as chairman since 1993, and at the request of leadership from both sides of the aisle.
The toughest part of my job as chairman is distributing dollars among the many competing transportation needs in Vermont. Looking back, I think that we have been able to do that in a fair and productive way, and we have used the planning provisions of the Federal law to get the job done. The direction of that law -- to emphasizing planning from the bottom up -- was definitely the right decision.
Of course, there was never enough money. Recognizing this, we set out early in my tenure to eliminate low priority projects. This was a painful process. Every project has a champion. But we were able to make these choices by working through Vermont’s network of regional planning commissions and advisory committees. They were the key then and they continue to be central to our efforts today.
Even with this “pruning” of low priority projects our needs’ still far exceed our available funding. As a result of this success of the project manager system which we directed the agency to institute, and taking advantage of the advanced construction provisions of the Federal law, I leave my chairmanship with enough “shelf projects” to consume a year’s worth of Vermont Federal appropriation. Each year, we must decide on the allocation of transportation dollars - both Federal and State - among the various modes. Between maintenance operations, system preservation and expansion, I have used the agency’s long-range Transportation Plan to guide this effort.
In my part of the State, the Bennington area in Southwestern Vermont, we have nearly completed the first phase of what will become the Bennington Bypass. Re-routing two national highway system roads out of our City Center, improving traffic flow and relieving unbearable congestion from the downtown.
After many years of planning and design, we have also begun critical safety improvements on the main east-west highway through Southern Vermont. This project will save lives and improve commerce.
We have improved a key segment of rail line, linking the area to the highly active rail corridor serving Albany, New York and the nation’s rail network. We are now working with Amtrack and our New York neighbors to secure service to the Bennington and Manchester area. Our long-term goal is to improve both freight and passenger rail up and down the west side of the State.
We have also used the generous provisions of the Federal Highway bills to expand public transportation. In my tenure we have established seamless interconnecting routes that go from the Massachusetts Line in Pownal to Rutland and points north. Several other routes statewide have been established or are about to be.
I would encourage you as you prepare to put together the re-authorization bill that you garner every possible dollar that is entitled to transportation in order that Vermont and its fellow States have the opportunity to attempt to bring our infrastructure up to par. I do not have to tell you that our interstate system as well as nationwide is 40-plus years old and needs major attention. I ask you to refrain from ancillary programs and concentrate on making it affordable and less restrictive as possible. Our local communities are in the same predicament and look for State help. More Federal authorization would accommodate our ability to offer them assistance.
Ultimately, our goal in the Legislature, and the agency’s goal, is to get things done for Vermont, delivering projects that respect neighboring property owners, businesses, local communities and the environment. This has been a challenge. We have had success by bringing all of the players together and focusing on what’s good for Vermont.
A few weeks ago, I announced my intent to retire from the Vermont Legislature. I do so with a sense of accomplishment and in the knowledge that many important transportation improvements are under way. I thank you Senator Jeffords for those kind words you entered into the Congressional Record on my behalf on my announcement.
New commuter air routes have been established not only at the Burlington International, but Rutland as well, the State’s second largest city, and major improvements in various other State airports that contribute to much-needed economic development.
My work on transportation has been among the most satisfying experiences I have ever had. Without the Federal partnership, we could not have made the progress that I have described. As for the future, we will need an increase in resources, from all sources, if we are able to meet our responsibilities to the traveling public.
Senator Jeffords, you have been a great friend of transportation in this State. I am very encouraged to have you chairing the Environment and Public Works Committee for the reauthorization process. I know that you will advance Vermont’s interests.
Mr. Secretary, I am glad that you have been able to hear from Vermonters today about the challenges we face, and I do not envy your challenge as you fight for scarce dollars.
In closing, I would emphasize that if you feel I can be of assistance at any time as you seek the prize, please do not hesitate to call. Paraphrasing General MacArthur’s comments, “Old soldiers never die; they just fade away,” I do not intend to die and I surely am not going to fade away.
Thank you for this opportunity to testify.