City residents urge transportation alternatives during public hearing

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Strong turn out at City Hall from residents interested in the Manchester portion of the 10-year NH DOT transportation plan. Photo/Laura Aronson

MANCHESTER, NH – City residents filled the Aldermanic chambers for the October 26 hearing on the state transportation plan, despite rain and wind. Many residents spoke, advocating transportation alternatives. The Manchester portion of the Department of Transportation (DOT) plan, $214,130,601, budgets 99.2 percent for roads and bridges, with .08 percent for a trail and a path.

RELATED STORY: 10-year Transportation Plan: With state bridges and roads failing, funding falls short

Requested alternatives included passenger rail, bicycle routes, pedestrian safety improvements, and widened bus service. Most speakers agreed on the need for passenger rail. Kathy Staub of Rights and Democracy (RAD) cited an informal survey of commuters who pointed out their frustration with the time and cost of transportation by car and bus, criticizing “the danger of patchwork transportation systems.” Staub continued, “We must use planning to integrate them.”

Executive Councilor Chris Pappas, who chaired the meeting, said, “We heard some powerful messages about developing alternative transportation options in Manchester. I look forward to getting to work to see if they can add rail and rail trail projects to the plan.

Passenger Rail Advocated to Benefit Economy

Manchester Alderman-at-Large  Dan O’Neil said, “I am disappointed that there is no funding for passenger rail.” Many residents spoke, supporting this point of view.

Several speakers cited the need for passenger trains to bring workers from Boston and its suburbs to Manchester, in addition to serving southbound commuters.

Geoff Himsel, owner of Gale Motor Company Eatery, a downtown restaurant, described his difficulty in finding and retaining employees. He said, “To keep young people from leaving, we need commuter rail.”

Hassan Essa, candidate for Alderman in Ward 12, said, “It is important that Manchester and New Hampshire look forward in making the investments that will not only bring young people and keep them here, but will also boost our economy.”


Residents Spoke for Bicycle, Pedestrian, and Bus Projects

A contingent of Bike Manchester members appeared for the hearing, and several spoke for bicycle projects. Derek Shooster cited a survey in which Southern New Hampshire residents rated their transportation options as “poor” or “very poor,” saying, “Safe bicycle and pedestrian facilities are integral to an intermodal transportation network.” Michael Power cited the impact of bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure on the economy.

Shooster proposed moving $850,000 of Phase III funds to the South Manchester Rail Trail, as recommended by the Southern New Hampshire Planning Commission (SNHPC). He also recommended increasing Federal funding from the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) grant.

Paula Bedard of the Bike-Walk Alliance of New Hampshire supported Shooster’s point of view.

Glenn Ouellette pointed out the lack of East-West public transit, with no service from Manchester to Portsmouth, stating “It’s time for New Hampshire to be bold.”

Residents who emphasized the need for better public transit included Ryan Donnelly of Granite State Independent Living, who encourages “complete streets,” and Lydon Philbrook, a Manchester high school student, who described students’ difficulties in getting around.

Jim O’Connell urged the formation of public-private partnerships in transportation development.

Millyard Challenges Addressed

The Millyard is anticipated to need up to 5,000 new parking spaces, according to an August 17 Union Leader editorial. Ken Rhodes, an engineer/businessman with offices in the Millyard, pointed out the urgency of the need to support a growing high tech, educational, and institutional expansion. He said, “Completing this in 2028 is years too late to support the commitments needed to get high-end users to land and stay long-term in Southern New Hampshire, and specifically in the Millyard.

You can review the draft of the 236-page NH DOT recommended plan below:

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