Unlovable: Exec. Council stops rail transit study

LivableMHT has made a point to remain non-partisan and to delve into politics only as much as it directly affects livability and urban development in Manchester. Today, we are taking a break from that policy to decry the embarrassingly shortsighted 3-2 vote of the Executive Council to reject federal and private funding for a commuter rail feasibility study for the Capitol Corridor.

According to Nashua Patch, Councilor Dan St. Hilaire who represents the Concord area was the deciding vote against the accepting the funds for the study:

“I don’t think it’s the right time in this economy,” said Councilor Dan St. Hilaire. “We made the decision to expand I-93, and not rail. We need to be consistent.”

This study would not have cost the state a penny–and it would have given work to two in-state contractors. It would have studied the feasibility of commuter rail between Concord and Boston–with stops in Manchester and Nashua, and at Manchester Airport–as well as alternatives. It would not have committed the state to implement any of its findings, or to spend any money in the future. We don’t think it’s likely, but it may have even concluded that commuter rail would not be feasible for New Hampshire.

We agree with Nashua Mayor Donnalee Lozeau that Councilor St. Hilaire’s “either or” argument between highway widening and restoring commuter rail is the exact wrong way of looking at the situation:

“I don’t think that enters into the equation. I think we’re capable of doing more than one thing at a time,” Lozeau said. “In these economic times it’s exactly the right time to be accepting funds and feasibility studies.”

In the 21st century, it’s vital for Manchester and southern New Hampshire to be connected to each other and other cities, including Boston, if they are to remain attractive places to live and visit, and competitive in attracting and retaining businesses. Without a rail connection, Manchester, Nashua and Concord will watch Providence, Portland and the Seacoast benefit from rail connections to Boston, and pass the Merrimack Valley by.

The majority of New Hampshire residents understand how important commuter rail is to the state, and they overwhelmingly support it. If Dan St. Hilaire can not even accept money for a study–a study!–at no cost to the state, then we at least hope that the voters will send him–as well as Councilors Chris Sununu and David Wheeler, who also voted against the study–home this November.

A very slightly Lovable update:

The Union Leader and Nashua Telegraph are reporting that the study may not be dead just yet. The Union Leader writes:

“New Hampshire politics just threw a wrench into this,” said Peter Hoe Burling, former chair of the state rail authority board.

He said there will be an effort to get the federal government to take on the study without New Hampshire’s participation. Burling also said the rail line is an important national link and there could be efforts to fund the 12 percent locally or transfer the grant to some non-political group.

And the Nashua Telegraph adds:

“The council has said it won’t accept these dollars but I’m going to investigate whether the city could accept them,” [Nashua Mayor Donnalee] Lozeau said. “I’m not at all sure whether that’s feasible but I think it’s worth a try.” …

[Governor John] Lynch said to business leaders throughout the southern tier, getting commuter rail is an important initiative.

“I talk to business owners all the time and they tell me this is one of their top priorities,” Lynch said.

Lozeau added that upgrading the rail lines for commuter traffic would also enhance the speed and cost-effectiveness of freight traffic for area firms.

We’re hoping that the City of Nashua, or some other group–perhaps Manchester Airport, or the Manchester and Nashua Chambers of Commerce, for instance–will be able to accept these funds and conduct this study. That won’t undo the embarrassment of this vote or the failure of three councilors to recognize the importance and support for this project, but it would allow the state to finally have some answers about the cost and feasibility of commuter rail, and some hope of joining its neighbors (at least in terms of infrastructure) in the 21st century.

This post is one in an ongoing LivableMHT series, Livable/Unlovable, that will comment on proposals, projects and other topics that are either good (Livable) or bad (Unlovable)  from a livability/urban development viewpoint.


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