NH near the bottom in transit & pedestrian funding

New Hampshire has topped a lot of good lists in the past several years–best state to raise a family in, healthiest state, safest state, and on and on.

But it’s also near the bottom–or in the case of funding for higher education, at the absolute bottom–on some other lists. It’s not surprising that editorial writers and politicians aren’t rushing out to tell us about the lists where New Hampshire isn’t near the top, but it’s important to know if we want to improve.

One such list is New Hampshire’s rank among the states in funding for transit, and pedestrian and bicycle projects, according to the¬†Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP).

New Hampshire ranks near the bottom–and far below the rest of New England–in transit funding. Chart from the Transport Politic.

In fact, just 10% of all state funding on all state transportation projects goes to transit, pedestrian and bicycle projects combined. That’s pathetically low compared to almost any state, but especially compared to all other New England states, including our much more rural neighbors in Maine and Vermont.

Sure, far northern New Hampshire is rural and sparsely populated, but the vast majority of Granite Staters live in the relatively densely populated southeastern corner of the state, including the many urban centers in the Seacoast and Merrimack Valley. That’s also where most of the roads are, and where the majority of the state’s few public transit systems are located. So the argument that the majority of the land is rural doesn’t really impact whether we spend more money on transit or highway widening projects when most of the people, roads and transit systems are in the urban and suburban southern tier of the state.

Transit projects make up the largest portions of STIP funding in Massachusetts (49%), Connecticut (44%), Rhode Island (31%) and Maine (28%), and the second largest portion in Vermont (21%). New Hampshire, by comparison, contributes a paltry 7% of its STIP funding to transit. These are states that New Hampshire is competing with to attract and retain young professionals, families, businesses, students and visitors. Making them all own multiple cars and drive everywhere is becoming less and less appealing to all these groups.

NH Capitol Corridor route
NH has rejected grants to study and plan commuter rail, like the systems neighboring states are building. Image from NHBTI

It would be one thing if other states with large rural areas spent so little on transit funding, but they don’t. In fact, states with much larger rural areas than New Hampshire are investing much more in transit projects, such as Utah (42%). New Hampshire, like Utah–and even more so than Vermont or Maine–is mostly undeveloped, rural land, but the majority of its population is concentrated in a fairly dense geographic area. Saying that New Hampshire is a rural state is inaccurate when you look at its population, and no excuse when you look at states with similar development patterns.

New Hampshire is about to spend $800 million–with a lot of help from the federal government of course–on widening about 20 miles of I-93 from Salem to Manchester. It just completed the less than 2-mile-long airport access road, named Raymond Wieczorek Drive, at a cost of $1.75 million. At the same time, the Executive Council rejected a $3.2 million grant to study and plan commuter rail between Concord and Boston via Manchester and Concord. It’s important to note that 75% of New Hampshire residents support the proposed Capitol Corridor commuter rail project.

Public transit projects, like commuter rail, intercity bus service (such as between Portsmouth and Manchester) and vastly improved local transit service (such as expanding hours and frequency on the MTA), are far cheaper and more cost-effective than highway widening, and in the case of rail (and streetcars) at least work as a major economic development tool.

When the state is willing to spend a billion dollars on highway projects, but contributes next to nothing to transit projects, is it any wonder young people are leaving the state, while cities in Maine, Vermont and Massachusetts attract them? Clearly, New Hampshire has the money to invest in better transit, and pedestrian and bicycle projects. It just doesn’t have the right priorities.

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