NASHUA, NH – Continuing her Opportunity Tour, Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Joyce Craig recently spoke with local officials about reviving the Nashua-Manchester Commuter Rail Project, which would bring the MBTA Commuter Rail into southern New Hampshire.
“As governor, this is something I would do,” said Craig, who is currently serving her third and final term as mayor of Manchester. “There’s been an outpouring of support.”
She said the design and engineering study were steadily moving forward until the New Hampshire Executive Council voted to terminate the project at the end of last year.
“The plan was so close to being done,” Craig said during the Aug. 30 meeting. “Public transportation is really lacking in this state.”
Nashua Mayor James Donchess said bringing the Commuter Rail to the city would be a “game changer.”
He said Crown Street and the Pheasant Lane Mall have been identified as potential locations for Commuter Rail stations. Currently, the station closest to Nashua is in Lowell, Mass.
“This would boost the economy, bring in tax money,” said Donchess. “The state has projected that thousands of jobs would be added.”
He said the project was backed by the state Department of Transportation and was on the verge of receiving federal funding.
“This major step forward has been stopped by the Executive Council,” he said. “We need someone in Concord to move this forward.”
According to the DOT, construction alone is estimated at $782 million. However, at least 55 percent of the cost would be covered by federal grants. Depending on ridership, fares could cover up to 82 percent of the $17 million in annual operating expenses.
Former State Sen. Bette Lasky agreed that stopping the project was a mistake on the part of Gov. Chris Sununu.
“Until Gov. Sununu we were making progress,” she said. “The southern half of the state wants this. We will be a landlocked island without rail.”
Lasky said the absence of the Commuter Rail is preventing young professionals, who live in Nashua, from seizing career opportunities in Boston.
“The amount of everything going on down there is astounding,” she said of New England’s largest city.
Paul Shea, a member of the Board of Public Works, said District 5 Councilor David Wheeler, who represents Nashua on the Executive Council, could have been a much stronger advocate for the Commuter Rail.
“I’m frustrated, we are misrepresented by our executive councilor,” he said. “Nashua has skin in the game, the state of New Hampshire needs to step it up.”
JoAnne St. John, a member of the Nashua Democratic City Committee, said the prospect of extending the Commuter Rail has been discussed since the late-1970s.
“We’re the only state in New England without rail,” she said.
According to her campaign, Craig has cut gun violence in half by introducing the Queen City’s first gun violence reduction strategy. The number of other violent crimes has also decreased by 38 percent. In the Manchester School District, Craig bolstered teacher salaries and made class sizes smaller, thus increasing student achievement.
Other gubernatorial candidates currently include District 2 Councilor Cinde Warmington of the Executive Council, former U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte and Chuck Morse, former president of the New Hampshire Senate.
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