$20 million federal grant to put bicyclists, pedestrians on new path across Little Bay


New Hampshire Bulletin

Published: 06-29-2023 11:53 AM

Millions in federal funds coming to New Hampshire are earmarked for a major transportation infrastructure project that isn’t for motor vehicles at all. 

When the General Sullivan Bridge replacement project is complete, the restored link between Dover and Newington is expected to see close to 500 new bicycle riders daily, in addition to pedestrians and fishermen. 

New Hampshire’s congressional delegation announced this week the state will receive $20 million in funds from the U.S. Department of Transportation to replace the closed General Sullivan Bridge with what will be the only walking and bicycling access across Little Bay. The new two-girder superstructure will reopen as a multi-use path, with help from a grant from the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity program (RAISE).

“This is great news for New Hampshire,” said state Department of Transportation Commissioner William Cass. “This $20 million grant will have a very positive impact on our state. Not only will it help ensure this long-awaited project to replace the aged General Sullivan Bridge with a new and modern bicycle and pedestrian bridge moves ahead to construction, but it will also help us solidify our highway program for the rest of the fiscal year.”

The money awarded to New Hampshire is among $2.2 billion the U.S. Department of Transportation is sending to states and tribal and local governments through a program that was expanded under the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The funds will support 162 projects nationally, including improvements and expansions of roads, rail, bridges, pedestrian trails, and maritime infrastructure.

The General Sullivan Bridge was constructed in 1934 and carried vehicular traffic until 1984. It closed completely in 2018 because of its deteriorating condition due to age and the harsh coastal climate.

The new 1,550-foot-long structure – expected to cost $35.5 million – will be completely separate from vehicle traffic and located just upstream of the Little Bay bridges that carry the Spaulding Turnpike both north and south. Without the General Sullivan Bridge, pedestrians and bicyclists are forced to take a 25-mile detour. 

In New Hampshire DOT’s cover letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Cass wrote the bridge replacement will improve safety by separating bicyclists and pedestrians from eight lanes of high-speed traffic. It will also reduce greenhouse gas emissions by encouraging a modal shift from automobiles for commuters and recreational users. And, Cass wrote, it will serve a diversity of users and connect nationally significant destinations. 

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The state’s application materials to the federal government pegged the General Sullivan Bridge project as “an innovative response,” one that addresses the growing demand for different transportation choices and improves efficiency of the regional transportation network.

In a statement this week, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen said, “This project will enhance the quality of life for local residents and tourists, as well as ensure the continued economic vitality of New Hampshire’s Seacoast communities.”

Hassan wants attention for ‘high-hazard’ dams

The Biden administration has placed a huge focus on infrastructure spending. Nearly 35,000 projects have been awarded funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, according to the White House. 

Requesting attention for another type of infrastructure this week was Sen. Maggie Hassan, who called on the Government Accountability Office to review potentially hazardous dams operating under the authority of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Watershed Program and make safety recommendations.

There are currently 25 dams operated by the USDA in New Hampshire, and 75 percent of those are classified as “high-hazard,” meaning their failure would cause significant property destruction and loss of human life.

“The safety of downstream communities is of serious concern when there is a risk of failure from high-risk dams, and coordination between federal, state, and local governments is critical to protect against and mitigate those risks,” Hassan wrote along with Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson. 

Over the next five years, the Federal Emergency Management Agency will award $733 million through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law in dam safety grants to states and territories to enhance dam safety and rehabilitate or remove aging dams.

At Wednesday’s Executive Council meeting, Department of Environmental Services Commissioner Robert Scott told councilors the state has $35 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds for high-hazard dams that are municipally owned.

States Newsroom reporter Jacob Fischler contributed to this story.