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N.H. DOT commissioner: We need more resources

  • Editorial board with DOT Commissioner Chris Clement<br/>on Tuesday, January 7, 2014.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    Editorial board with DOT Commissioner Chris Clement
    on Tuesday, January 7, 2014.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • Editorial board with DOT Commissioner Chris Clement<br/>on Tuesday, January 7, 2014.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

Chris Clement, the commissioner of the state Department of Transportation, is a man who likes numbers. Just not his numbers.

He’s paving 200 fewer miles of roads a year than he’d like to. The number of “red-listed” state bridges is 145 and climbing. He’ll begin 2016 with a $48 million deficit in the highway fund. Thirty-seven percent of the state’s roads are in poor condition.

And while plenty of lawmakers say they want to finish improvements to Interstate 93, they’ve put $0 toward the $250 million bill.

Lawmakers reconvene today and will consider a few bills this session that would send more money Clement’s way, either from casino proceeds or a bump in the gas tax. The same lawmakers vetoed both ideas last year.

Since then, Clement has taken his case to the public, talking with locals in small meetings across the state and handing out 5,000 copies of his PowerPoint presentation along the way.

“I’m revenue agnostic,” Clement said in an interview with Monitor editors yesterday. “I’m not going to say (I want a) gas tax or casino. We are just presenting the needs. We are saying we have the need here and wherever the funding comes from . . . is just fine with us.”

In his Monitor interview yesterday, Clement went through his 53-page presentation, counting the ways he believes the state’s roads and bridges are dangerously deteriorating.

Clement discussed the promise he saw in last year’s gas tax bill from Rep. David Campbell, which would have increased the gas tax by 12 cents over three years, giving the DOT an additional $93 million a year – enough, Clement said, to cover the department’s immediate needs and work on I-93.

This year’s gas tax bill from Sen. Jim Rausch, a Derry Republican, would add 4 or 5 cents to the gas tax, generating $28 million a year for the DOT. If the bill passes, it would be the first increase in the gas tax – and thereby the state’s highway budget – since 1992.

But it would still fall short of what Clement argues his department needs.

“If the Legislature lets me use those funds, do I use all those funds and plug the operational hole in DOT and not fix roads and bridges and not continue (improvements on) I-93? Or do you use it toward I-93?”

Here’s what Clement wants lawmakers and the public to know about the upkeep – or lack thereof – of roads and bridges they use daily:

∎ Since 1991, the DOT has reduced staff by 22 percent, or 430 positions. In that time, the amount of traffic on the roads has increased 30 percent.

∎ The number of miles plowed in an average snowstorm would equal nine trips to Alaska and back.

∎ If the Legislature does not increase the DOT’s budget and Clement is left with a $48 million deficit, he will have to eliminate up to 700 positions or a combination of positions and programs.

∎ The number of “structurally deficient” state bridges will reach 175 by 2016. Clement said he doesn’t have the money to repair bridges and reduce that number.

∎ There is $500 million worth of turnpike projects that won’t be completed without more money. That includes a $195 million plan to widen I-93 in Bow and Concord.

∎ Thirty-seven percent of the state’s roads considered to be in “poor” condition equal the number of miles between Concord and Fargo, N.D. And the DOT is investing its limited dollars in the state’s other roads instead because it costs $50,000 a year to improve a mile of a “good” or “fair” road and $1.1 million a mile to do the same for a poor road.

∎ A federal program that brings the state $140 million to $150 million for road work expires in September. “If Congress doesn’t come together with another . . . program, that’s going to cause us problems,” Clement said.

∎ The $30 surcharge on car registrations the 2010 Legislature repealed raised $45 million for the DOT in one year.

Clement came to the DOT in 2008, initially as deputy commissioner, from private business. In his former life, numbers like these drove budget decisions. The transition to a government job has been a difficult one.

“I come into state government and I’m trying to sell the need for investment, and that’s how I look at all of this stuff, is investment . . . and it’s much more difficult because of politics. And because of the need to educate both the public, the businesses and the policymakers.”

Clement’s persistence in making his case has put him at odds with some lawmakers. That’s a risk he feels he needs to take.

“I’m not going to give up,” he said. “I’m going to keep communicating the need. I’m going to keep going out there and presenting just the facts.”

(Annmarie Timmins can be reached at 369-3323 or atimmins@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @annmarietimmins.)

Legacy Comments14

Mr. Clement, I agree we need to invest in our roads. I would even support a $.05 per gallon gas tax to do so if I felt that was specifically earmarked, tracked and assured that it would be spent on the roads. If so, let's do it. On a separate note, Mr. Clement, please take the money we are wasting on the Safe Routes to School Program, return the federal bribery money to have the program and take our contribution and spend it on the roads almost immediately. It won't cover much but it is wasteful beyond keeping a group of union hacks working at single tasking jobs.

Give all the highway funds to DOT. 1/3 of the money goes to State Police, and for what? Every little town has a police department the size of a national guard unit, so what do we need $tate Police for? Use the money you do have more efficiently. Last summer, there was a contractor planting bushes at some of the interchanges. Did that NEED to be done, or could that money be used elsewhere? When we see things like that going on, we have less sympathy for the need for more money to be stolen from us by the state. DOT would be better off to eliminate more positions and use contractors to plow snow and mow the roadsides. This way, you are not paying wages, benefits and retirement to anyone unless they are actually doing something useful.

Every state agency falls under the same scrutiny and has to "beg" for money like everyone else. Yes sometimes agency's like DOS can grab the coat tails of other agencies like DOT but they have to reason out their costs and exsistence to the leg. too. There are a lot of smart people that work in the state that have been trying to work through the polictics and issues - if the answers were easy and your suggestion didn't carry with it other huge implications they would have thought of it - and to be honest they probably have already considered all of your suggestions and decided against it for some reason or another. Arguably there are plenty of things that are done that maybe aren't deemed essential to everyone but the department and all state agencies have to look at the whole not just one individuals opinion and have a lot of decsisons and employees to watch over so things happen. As for contractors plowing the roads - I would take the knowlegeable and hard working state plow anytime. do they need to supplement these guys to give them a break or assist? maybe, but each shed and each district needs to evaluate that not someone who thinks it will save money and resources (which it probably wont in the long run). If you think your money is being "stolen" by the state you can move to Mass where they use contract plows on their roads and see how they tax you - money has to come from somewhere. If you want to drive in this state and have the service you expect lets all be adult about this and admit we have to get the money somwhere. If you have good idea bring it to your representative not the bottom of a news article.

Make I-93 a toll road up to Franconia notch with high speed toll lanes and let the users pay for it. I pay every time I go through Hookset , The Everett turnpike , the Spaulding turnpike and I-95. Those locations are not using state gas tax to widen and improve the roads. I see complaints all the time about "No trains until the users pay the full cost" so how about the same for I-93. Let the users pay and fast track all the road work.

What about I-89? Not a single toll booth along it's entire length. I guess that highway doesn't cost us a cent in upkeep.

After a little understanding of the roadway systems you will find that the roads with tolls are "owned" by turnpikes - these are the only roads that have tolls. 1-89 is not considereed part of the turnpike system.

You can't toll roads that were partially paid for with federal funds. Most any Interstate system roads conceived and built after 1956 are not tolled. Massachusetts has tried to tax I-93 for years with no success.

NH does NOT have a Taxing problem - NH has a SPENDING priority problem. When NH democrats spent $15 million for new bathhouses at Hampton Beach they showed you their priorities. When Democrats push for new multi Million $$ boat ramps they show you their priorities. When NH owns 2 ski areas, where the private sector has been proven to be quite able to supply the recreation, the democrats show you their priorities. When the state budget doubles in about a decade - we have a spending priority problem - NOT a Taxing problem. If one cant find $50 million in a $1.3 Billion budget that should tell you the liberal progressive populist socialist democrats have a spending PRIORITY PROBLEM - democrats have chosen ski areas over potholes.1/8/14 Post 2 of 12

Just as it is with mouths like yours, in a constant ongoing state of denial about everything. All we have to do is cut spending to create utopia. Spending money causes all our problems. Why should YOU have to pay for it? It's not fair. Etc. .

Again the old NOT have a Taxing blah,blah,....... Clearly anyone capable of objectivity knows the DOT has a revenue problem pure and simple. Yes, the state police take their chunk of change but I don't see that changing. DOT's material costs never drop, road usage is not likely to either. This is further complicated by the driving ability of the masses taking a swift decline over the years. This isn't an issue of spending at Hampton or on 2 ski areas or because of "liberal progressive populist socialist democrats" . It is because we want the roads clear, safe and passable. Unfortunately mother nature doesn't cooperate, paving suppliers can raise prices at will and any number of things can happen that can't be planned a year in advance. Most importantly, is that unlike North Dakota we have little natural resources (oil) and have to rely on tourism. Remember visitors can only spend here if they can safely get here. One last thing - NH has always had a consistently frugal budget so given your standing as a professional conservative protector from the liberal spending hoards, where would you start that $50 million savings and why? I'll be more than happy to counter or congratulate you.

Close the county sheriff offices and jail systems and turn over the entire responsibility and savings to 1 single entity. State Office of Education does not educate 1 single child - trim it immediately. Open up charter schools every and allow school choice and allow the $$$ to follow the child wherever they choose to be educated New Hampshire Division of Historical Resources is absolutely the worst run state agency and needs major rebooting - trim it drastically, NH office of Energy and Planning has not delivered a state plan in a decade, Close it. etc etc etc. Immediately sell the 2 ski areas - Give every state boat ramp to the towns in which they reside - Guaranteed there is an easy $50 Million to be found and I Challenge any single LIDV to post 1 single change they could live with.... assured we will all hear crickets . Cut and frugal are not in their vocabulary. I also challenge the LIDV to tell us in what year the budget was 50% of its current size.

Unfortunately, none of your suggestions can legally take care of DOT's problem.

Previous comment was to sail.

To which legislator do I send my front end alignment bills?

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