BIA NH forum on transporation, and the funding and infrastructure challenges ahead

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Panelists for the BIA NH forum on infrastructure, from left, NH Sen. David Watters, D-Dover, NH DOT Commissioner Victoria Sheehan and U.S. Congressman Chris Pappas, D-NH. Courtesy Photo

MANCHESTER, NH — Getting goods and people to where they need to be is a fundamental concern for businesses everywhere. With changes in technology, cultural preferences, and growth patterns, businesses need to stay informed when it comes to transportation. 

On October 1 the Business and Industry Association of NH gathered interested parties from around the state at the Doubletree Hotel in Manchester for a lunchtime forum on transportation infrastructure. The event featured a panel discussion and Q & A session with New Hampshire Sen. David Watters D-Dover, U.S. Congressman Chris Pappas, and New Hampshire Department of Transportation Commissioner Victoria Sheehan.

Commissioner Sheehan gave an update on the various NH DOT highway projects. The Salem-Manchester I-93 widening project is nearing completion and planning for widening the route between Bow and Concord is underway. She also discussed work on the Everett Turnpike including the upcoming reconstruction of Exits 6 and 7 at the Amoskeag Bridge in Manchester. A public hearing on the Exit 6 and Exit 7 plans is scheduled for October 30 at 6:30 p.m. at Manchester Community College.  

Revenue from the increased gas tax has enabled the NH DOT to replace 23 red-listed bridges and to leverage federal Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act loans to resurface many miles of rural roads.

Understanding and preparing for a future with autonomous vehicles is also under consideration at the state level. In 2019 the state legislature established an autonomous vehicle advisory committee. 

Commuter Rail

Sen. Watters, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee, was pleased that the Capitol Corridor Rail Project is back on track with the passage of Senate Bill 241. The bill authorized the NH DOT to begin the project development phase of the proposed extension of the MBTA commuter rail line from Lowell to Manchester. This next step will provide the information needed to pursue the federal grant money needed to undertake the project. 

Watters pointed out that 35 percent of the state’s economic activity takes place in the Manchester/Nashua corridor. Manchester is one of the largest cities on the East Coast that doesn’t have passenger rail service. Rail is recognized as a significant catalyst for economic development and a selling point for businesses. He notes that in his own town of Dover, rail access provided by the Amtrak Downeaster has led to $100 million worth of investment in the downtown area. He also believes that it was a contributing factor in Liberty Mutual’s decision to relocate 2,700 jobs to Dover from Boston. 

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Folks from around the state with an interest in the future of NH’s transportation plan attended Tuesday’s BIA NH forum. Courtesy Photo

Federal Funding

Congressman Chris Pappas, who serves on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, provided insight into the prospects for federal funding to address New Hampshire’s infrastructure challenges. He noted that New Hampshire ranks 50th in the amount of federal funds granted to states for transportation.

He is concerned that the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST)  Act is set to expire. He stated that our state transportation system needs stability and predictability when it comes to funding. 

Pappas is optimistic that an infrastructure bill will be signed into law.

“There is bi-partisan support for the issue and the Senate has introduced its own bill. It isn’t as robust as the House bill, but it does include some features to provide resiliency and help communities address extreme weather events, rising sea levels, and other effects of climate change,” Pappas said.

When asked if the impeachment proceedings underway in the House of Representatives would interfere with legislative work he said,” No, those of us on the committees that aren’t involved in the process continue to look for opportunities to work on meaningful legislation. If anything, we are going to dig in more.” 

Public input needed on 10-Year Transportation Plan update

While giving the update on the 10-Year Transportation Plan, Commissioner Sheehan made a point of saying that while 75 percent of federal highway dollars are spent on highways, the 10 Year Plan is truly an intermodal plan. The NH DOT and the New Hampshire Executive Council are currently in the public input phase of the biennial update of the plan. Twenty public hearings are scheduled during the months of September and October. Executive Councilor Ted Gatsas will be hosting one on Wednesday, October 23 at 7 p.m. at Manchester Community College.

According to Sheehan, participation in the hearings tends to be robust, and features a variety of citizens from rural and urban communities advocating for diverse transportation infrastructure improvements for people who drive, walk, bike, and ride public transportation.

 “We do worry that we miss people. Commuters, for example, so we have created a virtual public input platform on our website.”  The Ten Year Plan page includes links to the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Intermodal Transportation (GACIT) powerpoint presentation and a link to an online survey.   Sheehan also mentioned the value of written testimony and encouraged people to submit their comments.


About this Author

Kathy Staub

Kathy Staub is a NH State Representative for Hillsborough District 25.