DOT chief says I-93 widening project will run out of money in 2015
The widening of Interstate 93 in southern New Hampshire will grind to a halt in late 2015, “unless we get additional funding,” Transportation Commissioner Chris Clement told lawmakers yesterday.
“In a semi-perfect world, we wouldn’t stop working. The funding would come in now or soon to now, so we could keep the equipment staged, we could keep the equipment mobilized and we could keep those construction projects going on in unison up that 20-mile corridor,” Clement told the House Public Works and Highways Committee during a hearing on transportation funding. “If no additional funding comes, it will stop.”
At that point, Clement said, the widening of the highway will be complete from Exit 3 south to the Massachusetts border and at Exit 5. To finish it, he said, the state would need an additional $250 million – and environmental permits for the project will lapse in 2020.
But legislators found little agreement this year on how to pay for increased road paving, bridge repairs, major construction projects and other transportation infrastructure needs.
“The Senate killed the gas tax. The House killed the gambling bill,” said Rep. David Campbell, a Nashua Democrat and chairman of the House Public Works and Highways Committee.
He added there is “no hope in the next several months, and maybe years, about having more revenue.”
The Department of Transportation has seen its budget strained in recent years. Gov. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat, in February told a joint session of the Legislature that “maintaining and repairing our state’s roads and bridges and funding transportation projects are crucial for our economy.”
But she didn’t propose a specific solution in her budget plan, leaving it to lawmakers to work out an acceptable funding mechanism.
The Legislature then considered two proposals that would have helped pay for road and bridge repairs and other transportation projects: expanded gambling and an increase in the gas tax.
The Senate passed a bill that would have allowed a
single casino in New Hampshire, with a portion of the
revenue earmarked for transportation projects. But the House rejected it by a 35-vote margin, despite intense lobbying from supporters, including Hassan.
The House, meanwhile, passed a bill – introduced by Campbell – that would have raised the state’s gas tax by 12 cents phased in over several years; it has stood at 18 cents since 1991. But the Senate voted, 18-6, to kill the bill.
In the short term, Campbell said, the prospects appear dim for any agreement on new transportation revenue.
“Right now . . . there is no additional funding,” he said.
But Sen. Jim Rausch, a Derry Republican and chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, indicated during the Senate’s May 23 debate over the gas tax that something could be on the table when the Legislature meets again next year.
“I have assurances that next year – not next session, but next year – we can have legislation that is different but pertinent to the resolution and solutions of our infrastructure needs,” Rausch said at the time.
(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or
firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)