CONCORD, NH – Senate Bill 241, became law last week without the Governor’s signature. It puts the New Hampshire Capitol Corridor Rail Project back into the state’s Ten-year Transportation Plan and allows the Department of Transportation to use federal transportation funds and toll credits to complete the next phase of the project.
This paves the way for the NH DOT to begin the Project Development Phase of the project. A comprehensive 2014 study looked at several potential alternatives for expanding passenger rail service to the Merrimack Valley. The Manchester Regional Commuter Rail Alternative, which would extend rail service from Lowell, Mass., through Nashua and as far as Manchester, was deemed the most cost-effective option.
The next phase of the project entails conducting the detailed analyses that will be necessary in order to complete grant applications to the Federal Transit Administration. According to Patrick Herlihy, Director of Aeronautics, Rail and Transit for the New Hampshire Department of Transportation, there are three main components to the next phase. Since the project will cross state lines and connect with MBTA service in Massachusetts, the NHDOT will need to sit down with their partners in Massachusetts to make sure that all parties are in agreement regarding the particulars that will be in the grant application.
Secondly, detailed engineering plans will be developed outlining the scope of the work and determining firm costs for materials and labor. Necessary Environmental Impact Studies along the rail corridor will also be conducted.
Finally, a financial plan will need to be developed. The hope is that federal transportation grants will cover most of the construction costs. Toll credits will be used as a match for the grants. There will also likely be a gap in funding which the state will need to issue bonds to cover. Fares will cover the bulk of the on-going operational costs, but the 2014 study predicted that the state would need to provide a $1 Million subsidy to make up the difference. The financial plan would lay out how all of this funding would come together.
Herlihy expects that the NHDOT will issue RFP’s for the various components of the Project Development Phase within the next six months to a year. The work itself will take between 18 months and two years. Once the reports are in the DOT will begin the process of applying for federal funding. The Capital Investment Grant program is competitive so Herlihy says there is no guarantee that we will get the funding the first time we apply.
Once the funding has been obtained actual construction may take three years. “The project is pretty straightforward. The rails are already in place. The biggest part will be making the bridges along the way safe for passenger trains.”
Senator Melanie Levesque (D-Brookline), whose district includes a section of Nashua, was the prime sponsor of SB 241. She issued the following statement, “Passenger rail is a key component to New Hampshire’s efforts to grow our economy, ease traffic, improve commutes, and attract and retain young professionals. I am please SB 241 will become law, which lifts a barrier to passenger rail in New Hampshire by allowing our state to access federal funds for an in-depth analysis of expanding rail in the Granite State.”