Study says NH needs commuter rail–will the politicians agree?

We’ve written several times about the need for commuter rail between Manchester and Boston. In fact, LivableMHT’s very first post was about the Capitol Corridor study of passenger rail between Concord, Manchester, Nashua and Boston. Two years ago, the Executive Council wisely permitted that study to go forward, and with the official results of due out soon, there … Continue reading Study says NH needs commuter rail–will the politicians agree?


Nearly a year ago, LivableMHT decried the incredibly shortsighted 3-2 decision by the Executive Council to not go forward with a study of the Capitol Corridor commuter rail project, which would have been funded nearly entirely through federal grants.

Today, however, the new pro-rail majority on the Executive Council voted 4-1 to conduct the study, putting commuter rail in the Merrimack Valley back on track. Only two members of the Executive Council were also serving last year–longtime councilor Ray Burton, a Republican representing the North Country, and Chris Sununu, also a Republican, who represents the Rockingham County suburbs, including Exeter, home to one of the busiest rail stations north of Boston. Both councilors’ votes were unchanged from last year–Burton joining the three newly elected Democrats (who hail from the state’s three largest cities and presumably future rail stations: Manchester, Nashua and Concord) in favor of the study, and Sununu now the lone vote against what could be one of the state’s biggest economic development tools in the coming decades.

If Sununu had listened to the vast majority of New Hampshire residents and the vocal business groups in the state, the study could be under way already. While New Hampshire has lost a year, it is reassuring that the rail study is back on track, and that it no longer looks like New Hampshire will be passed by when it comes to rail improvements, which are crucial to freight traffic, and attracting and retaining young people, businesses, tourists and students.

In today’s Union Leader, Councilor Colin Van Ostern (Democrat of Concord, representing District 2) explains why he supports the Capitol Corridor project:

The Capitol Corridor rail project is back on track again. The rail and transit study that was halted by last year’s Executive Council now has strong, bipartisan support that reflects its popularity with business leaders and New Hampshire residents alike. The study will very likely pass shortly and be completed by the end of next year.

 

But this resuscitated study alone won’t determine rail’s fate in New Hampshire. To prevent another political derailment in the future, we must think ahead:

 

–Judge rail based on overall economic development, not ridership alone. Earlier this month, an executive from the largest private employer in Concord and another from the fastest-growing startup in Manchester each pled the case for rail to me – separately – using almost the same words, hours apart: “Help us grow, bring new workers to the area and reduce barriers between us and Boston so New Hampshire’s advantages shine even brighter,” each said.

 

They both want rail because of its overall economic impact and they recognize that rail boosts their own (and the state’s) economic growth. This is the prize – and it is far larger than the economic bump from rail line construction jobs or the loss from covering operating costs.

 

–Secure a long-term, bipartisan vision, not stop-and-go development. When one party alone controlled the fate of rail in Concord last year, the project stalled (and by the way, that opposition cost some lawmakers their seats). Now, rail is back on track because Democrats and Republicans are working together to re-start this study. If the past decade is a guide, the Republican and Democratic parties will each have their day in the sun in our state before this project is done – so we need to embrace this as a practical issue, not a partisan one. We’re in this together.

 

–Benefit the whole state, not just one community. The strongest case for rail – both economically and politically – is one that benefits as many New Hampshire residents as possible. Bridging Boston with Nashua’s businesses, Merrimack’s outlets, Manchester’s airport and Concord’s connections to the lakes and North Country would fill the hole left by today’s existing rail lines along our state’s Eastern and Western borders. Ideologically driven opponents of rail want to stake one region of the state against another, but what’s best for New Hampshire is a transit plan that benefits all of us.

 

–Consider our transportation infrastructure as a whole, not just a stand-alone project. Rail must succeed as part of a well-planned transportation web that connects Manchester-Boston Regional Airport, an expanded I-93 and a rapidly-growing bus network across the state. Less traffic, more mobility and more commerce with our neighbors to the south creates a strong foundation for economic growth in New Hampshire. Both our bus lines and the Downeaster rail line in the Seacoast are setting records and stand to gain from the amplification rail provides.

 

There’s no question that the promise of rail for New Hampshire is huge: attracting new workers for growing New Hampshire businesses; delivering tourists, shoppers and business visitors to our state; lessening traffic on I-93; easing commutes; and amplifying the growth of new Granite State bus routes and the Manchester-Boston Regional airport.

 

There are also significant costs to building and operating rail, and the coming study should shed some light on the costs of transit options in the Capitol Corridor. Once that study is completed, we must take an objective and comprehensive look at how those costs stack up against the tremendous economic benefits of rail.

 

This year won’t produce a final decision on rail, but it will lay the foundation for whether that ultimate decision is made the right way. If we focus on economic development; if we set aside partisanship, if we focus on New Hampshire as a whole; and if we take a holistic look at our transportation systems; we’ll stay back on track this time.


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.

Exec. Council to vote tomorrow on commuter rail study

As a UNH survey last year and a meeting in Nashua last night have shown, there is overwhelming support across the state–and from the business community–for the Capitol Corridor commuter rail project, which would run from Concord to Boston. Support is less clear among the Executive Council, which will vote tomorrow on whether to approve … Continue reading Exec. Council to vote tomorrow on commuter rail study

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 … Continue reading Unlovable: Exec. Council stops rail transit study

The Union Leader is reporting that the Federal Highway Administration is rescinding and cancelling all trail funding for 2012.

Budget times are tough, but these are the sort of projects that make cities more enjoyable and strengthen communities, in addition to providing residents options for commuting, exercise and recreation. This news comes on top of delays in restoring commuter rail between Manchester, Concord, Nashua and Boston, and reduced funding for the MTA. It is shortsighted and sad to see legislators at the state and federal level cutting funding for transit, trails and alternative transportation while continuing to fund highway expansion and heavily subsidizing automobile use.

Fortunately, construction of the bridge connecting the Piscataquog Trail on the West Side with the Goffstown Trail was secured through earlier funds and will go forward. Trails and other bike infrastructure, such as bike lanes–along with commuter rail and improved public transit–are vital to continued growth and investment in cities like Manchester, and they should be funded and cherished.

Funding for trails runs dry

Federal grants: Manchester was eyeing projects that may not happen now. 

By MARK HAYWARD

Any bicycle and pedestrian trails that local communities have on the drawing board for next year likely won’t go very far.

New Hampshire officials learned last week that the federal government has zeroed out $677,000 in 2012 grant money that was anticipated for pedestrian trails, the state Division of Parks and Recreation said Monday.

The Recreational Trails Program funding is the only source available for non-motorized trails in New Hampshire. It is a major component of the motorized trail system also.

“We are completely stunned at the sudden email from (the Federal Highway Administration) and this loss of funding,” said Bureau of Trails Chief Chris Gamache.

State officials said the agency made technical corrections to its funding formula, recalculating grants for the years 2009 to 2012.

The result: the Federal Highway Administration was taking back $678,000 and had rescinded all 2012 funds, which amount to $677,000.

“Sen. Shaheen’s staff have been aware of the situation and are in touch with the Federal Highway Administration to see what options are available,” Shaheen spokeman Faryl Ury said Monday night. “We understand accounts are being adjusted for this program for every state nationwide.”

Fifty-five organizations received grants this year, including the state’s largest city.

Manchester won grants for the last several years. The city uses them to build paved, 10-foot wide trails, including trails on the West Side and in south Manchester.

Next year, it was planning to seek $350,000 in federal grants to build a trail to run east from Tarrytown Road and hook up to the Rockingham Trail at Lake Massabesic, said Peter Capano, chief of parks for the city.

If the grant money is lost, the project won’t go forward, said Capano, who added that the project wasn’t a given anyway.

This year, the city won a grant of $466,000 to extend the South Manchester trail, which runs parallel to South Willow Street, from Gold Street to Highland-Goffes Falls School, he said.

This summer, construction is expected to start on a bridge that spans the Piscataquog River and links the Piscataquog River Trail to the Goffstown Rail Trail.

Earlier grants funded the bridge, Capano said. The grants pay for only 80 percent of a project. City money or private funds make up the remainder.

Capano said Manchester Moves, a local trail group, has pledged $75,000 toward the local match.

Chances are remote the city could build the trails without federal help, Capano said.

Most trails make use of former rail beds, and Capano acknowledged a mountain bike could ply the trails now.

But paved trails draw pedestrians and a wide range of nonmotorized vehicles, including baby strollers and street bikes, he said.

He said the city hopes to eventually have all trails meet in the downtown area, which would facilitate cross-city bicycling.

New Hampshire passenger rail in jeopary

The New Hampshire Rail Transit Authority (NHRTA) was created in 2007 to study the feasibility and oversee restoration of passenger rail service in the Granite State. NHRTA’s members are all volunteers and the Authority has not used any state money.  It has, however, attracted several million dollars in grants to conduct an in-depth study on the feasibility … Continue reading New Hampshire passenger rail in jeopary

Where are Manchester’s 10,000 college students?

The school year is in full swing at UNH Manchester, NHIA, SNHU, St. Anselm and other Manchester colleges, and it’s hard to overstate the positive effects that those schools and their students have on the Queen City. It has been estimated that there are roughly 10,000 students attending Manchester colleges and universities, and in recent years … Continue reading Where are Manchester’s 10,000 college students?

Manchester 2026: Could the Queen City host the winter games?

A month after the close of the Sochi games, it’s clear that the Winter Olympics have come a long way since the 1980 games in tiny Lake Placid. As the winter games move on to South Korea in 2018, the host for the 2022 games has not been selected yet. No American cities are among … Continue reading Manchester 2026: Could the Queen City host the winter games?

Riverwalk becomes a topic in mayoral race

With less than two weeks before Manchester elects its next mayor, Alderman and mayoral candidate Patrick Arnold is gaining attention for his proposal to renew the Merrimack riverfront in Manchester. In a campaign video, Arnold stands on the graffiti-stained steps leading down to the Merrimack at Arms Park and declares:

We should promote opportunities for companies like Dyn and Silvertech, and visionaries like Dean Kamen to stay here, and create good paying jobs here. Instead of a dilapidated riverfront, imagine a world class Riverwalk or boardwalk promenade with shops, street vendors, and dining opportunities to rival similar projects in San Antonio, Providence, and Pittsburgh. A Riverwalk here would put our city on the map, not just regionally but nationally. We can realize these opportunities without using taxpayer dollars. Businesses and private investors will want to invest in projects like this because they believe in investing in Manchester’s future. The potential for our city is here, and it’s time for us to seize these opportunities. Continue reading Riverwalk becomes a topic in mayoral race

Envisioning a better Arms Park & how to get there (literally)

New Hampshire may not be getting a casino this year (for better or worse), but that doesn’t mean that cities like Manchester can’t do more to attract visitors, not to mention residents and workers. Last month we wrote about all the good things happening and being planned in downtown Manchester, and how city leaders–beginning with … Continue reading Envisioning a better Arms Park & how to get there (literally)