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Concord Area Transit to study bus route to Franklin

A bus trip from Franklin to Concord means taking a ride in the Winnipesaukee Transit Service system to Tilton, near Exit 18 off Interstate 93.

If schedules align, riders can then hop a bus to Concord.

The organization that operates Concord Area Transit and the Winnipesaukee Transit Service thinks getting from Franklin to the capital should be easier. Last week, Community Action Program Belknap-Merrimack Counties announced plans to study a potential public transit link between Franklin and Concord via Route 3, with multiple loops running daily. The feasibility study would be the first step toward determining if there is a need and, more importantly, whether a service would be economically viable.

“Do I say it could work? I think so, but I want a study to back it up,” said James Sudak, executive director of Community Action Program, which operates the two bus systems.

“We’ve gotten so many questions about it, so let’s look at it.”

The two fixed-route systems currently shuttle people in Concord and between Laconia and Franklin, but there is no overlap. Community Action Program also wants to study enhancements to the existing Winnipesaukee services in Belknap County to increase frequency.

A Franklin-Concord route would allow easier access to the capital, as well as a a transportation option for residents in towns along Route 3.

“They could take the bus to Penacook and then take (Concord Area Transit) to downtown Concord. They could even get on the Concord Express and go all the way to Manchester,” Sudak said.

The Concord Express is operated by Manchester Transit Authority and runs seven times a day. A feasibility study released earlier this month by the central and southern New Hampshire planning commissions recommended the express route continue when the pilot program ends in September.

The study did not look at Belknap County.

“It’s really two different issues. Concord-Manchester came from the original discussion about whether we need better access to the airport,” said Michael Tardiff, executive director of the Central New Hampshire Regional Planning Commission. “It was very interesting to see that downtown need existed.”

A potential feeder system from Franklin could build on that need, Sudak said: “We want to expand that corridor.”

Bus stop location and funding would be determined after the feasibility study, Sudak said. “The study will say, ‘This is what it will take to operate the system, and it should be operating during these hours and these days,’ ” he said. “Or it’s going to say that it’s just not feasible.”

The process would include public input, he said. If the service is deemed feasible, the state would go out to bid to determine who operates the system.

Ultimately, the bottom line will drive whether the expanded busing becomes reality.

“There has to be a cost benefit to this. You can’t implement a transit route without the chance of success,” said Ruairi O’Mahony, senior transportation planner at the Central New Hampshire Regional Planning Commission. “We would have to understand everything that would come with it.”

Alan Hardy, land use coordinator in Boscawen, which straddles Route 3 and currently doesn’t have direct bus access to Concord, said the town supports a study.

“I think they have explored the feasibility before because here we are sitting just north of Concord. Was there enough justification to extend the line? That’s what a good study would tell us,” he said. “I don’t question there is a lot of traffic. It’s just a question of whether it is economically viable.”

In 2010, the Central New Hampshire Regional Planning Commission studied transportation options in Merrimack and Belknap counties. “One of the key things we discovered, as I’m sure you’re aware of, is that outside of Concord and Laconia in the two regions there wasn’t a lot of transportation options,” O’Mahony said.

Priorities included more opportunities to use the system for everyday tasks, such as getting to and from medical appointments and social service facilities. Transportation to work, shopping and educational opportunities were also identified.

Another key statistic was the number of people over 65 who needed transportation.

“One of the key needs we had identified was for essential medical trips and essential social services,” O’Mahony said.

O’Mahony used the volunteer driver program example to demonstrate that ultimately, the survey will identify the need and potential next steps.

“Obviously, operating a fixed route is far more expensive than a volunteer driver program,” he said. “In terms of costs it’s clearly the most effective way of doing it. At the same time it doesn’t satisfy the need that a fixed route may. The funding just isn’t there to roll it out to everyone who may want to use it.”

(Iain Wilson can be reached at 369-3313 or iwilson@ cmonitor.com)

I am all IN on this: Extend it to Manchester! Anything that'll make Dick Lemieux go completely bat-sh_t crazy!

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