State House Memo: Has it come to this? Taking financial help from Vt.?
Gary and I had to drive to Massachusetts on New Year’s Day. The shortest route to our destination was all on well-traveled state highways: Route 202 West to Route 119 South to Route 31 South in Massachusetts. We had had a snowstorm a day or so before, but the snow had stopped at least 30 hours before we had to leave – certainly long enough for the roads to be cleared, or so we thought.
But as we made our way through Hillsboro and Antrim, and down on through Peterborough to Rindge, we found the roads still quite snow covered – especially in the town centers.
The intersection of Routes 202 and 119 was especially rough. Cars were swerving making the turn. And although there was clear pavement in the center of the lane we were driving on Route 119, the center of the road was still covered with white.
Eventually, though, the road began to improve. Dry pavement, and no snow in between lanes.
“Good! It must be warming up!” I said to Gary.
“Nope. We just crossed the Massachusetts line,” he replied.
The roads were mostly clear and dry the rest of the way.
New Hampshire Transportation Commissioner Christopher Clement has been telling us for months that he can’t get the job done right without more money. The funds for snow-plowing have been cut.
The Vilas Bridge, which crosses the Connecticut River and connects Walpole with Bellows Falls, Vt., has been closed since March 2009. New Hampshire officials closed it to pedestrians and vehicles because it failed its safety inspection. New Hampshire owns 93 percent of the bridge, Vermont the other 7 percent. According to a Jan. 11 article in The Keene Sentinel, businesses in Bellows Falls have reported a 30 percent decline in commerce since the bridge closed. I am sure the closure has had a negative impact in Walpole as well.
Vermont is worried. It likes to support its downtowns and restore historic bridges. It’s tired of waiting for New Hampshire to do something. So last week the Vermont Agency of Transportation offered to pay for the entire repair of the Vilas. According to Sue Mintner, deputy secretary for the Vermont AOT, they are “essentially putting out a loan that would be paid back over time through the rehabilitation of other bridges.”
Kind of embarrassing, isn’t it? Like having your neighbor send his son to cut your lawn because your yard is becoming an eyesore.
New Hampshire is the fourth wealthiest state in the country. You’d think we’d be able to afford to take care of our roads and bridges without needing a handout from Vermont. Are we becoming a “welfare state”? But maybe we’re like Rep. Neal Kurk’s yacht-owning Medicaid recipients. Rich, but we’d rather take advantage. And don’t you ever mention the word “tax.”
(State Rep. Marjorie Porter is a Democrat from Hillsboro.)