State House Memo: We need a 21st-century transportation network
Every two years the Executive Council updates the state’s 10-year transportation plan, structuring funding for roads, bridges, airports, buses and rail for the next decade. As the council holds more than two dozen hearings across the state to solicit public input, two facts are becoming abundantly clear: New Hampshire’s transportation network is in need of repair and expansion, and there’s not enough money available to get the job done.
The public has done an excellent job identifying the state’s substantial transportation needs. In Londonderry, I heard about the need to finish Interstate 93 and develop Pettengill Road south of Manchester-Boston Regional Airport. In Hooksett, residents shared important traffic and safety concerns on major state roads going through town. In Manchester, I heard about the need to reconstruct Exits 6 and 7 on Interstate 293 and for the state to invest more in mass transit. There’s widespread concern about delays to the Route 101 widening project in Bedford. In Loudon, residents made a compelling case for safety upgrades on the Route 106 corridor and the expansion of the Bow-Concord stretch of I-93.
Statewide, there are nearly 500 red-list bridges and 5,000 miles of state roadway to repair and maintain, not to mention a backlog of important new road projects that are languishing on the shelf.
Some communities are underserved by transit, and the overall network lacks connectivity for many people and economic centers.
Transportation projects are economic generators, infusing our state with much-needed construction jobs and lasting economic, public safety and quality-of-life benefits.
The I-93 widening project, currently under way from Windham to the Massachusetts border, is the state’s most critical one. This artery is a lifeline for our economy, but the state is still $250 million short of completing the project. If left unfinished, an inadequate I-93 will be a detriment to New Hampshire motorists and our economic fortunes.
Finding money for new projects is particularly challenging because of years of flat federal transportation aid and the shrinking purchasing power of our state’s gas tax.
Unless something changes, we will not have the capacity to look far beyond I-93 and basic maintenance over the next decade.
Guided by metrics on condition, safety, mobility and economic impact, the council is working with the Department of Transportation to finalize a plan that prioritizes our many local, regional and statewide needs. This will have to be done within the confines of current funding realities and will be sent to the governor and Legislature for their consideration next year. At that point, it will be up to legislative leaders to have a full discussion about whether the 10-year plan is adequate in terms of its breadth and scale.
If they have listened to what the public has said at the Executive Council’s hearings and the data provided by DOT, they will know that we run the risk of shortchanging communities and our future if we do not expand the scope of this plan.
New Hampshire must develop a 21st-century, intermodal system of transportation that connects our people and our economy. Currently, we are struggling to simply patch up the one we inherited from last century. This 10-year plan should not be a catalog of projects that will never be initiated; it must be a road map for long-term success.
If the legislative and executive branches can set aside ideology and assemble a robust and responsible plan, I’m confident New Hampshire’s future as a place to live, work, and do business will be better than ever.
(Executive Councilor Chris Pappas is a Democrat from Manchester. His district includes the local communities of Allenstown, Bow, Chichester, Deerfield, Epsom, Hooksett, Loudon, Northwood, Pembroke, and Pittsfield.)