Tag Archives: Capitol Corridor

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

Next stop: Manchester? - photo by matthrono
Next stop: Manchester? – photo by matthrono

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 are very promising preliminary results showing that commuter rail would be an economic boon to southern New Hampshire.

New Hampshire continues to lose young people to cities like Boston and New York, and the tech companies and startups that fill places like the Millyard have sounded the alarm that they are having difficulty attracting talented workers to the state. It’s clear that the “New Hampshire Advantage” of low taxes (unless you consider property taxes) and a low cost-of-living is no longer enough to convince the young, talented workers who drive the economy that New Hampshire, and more specifically Manchester, is a dynamic, interesting place to live. The State and the Queen City need to step up their game, and join with Nashua, in strongly advocating for a rail connection to Boston.

Manchester Regional Rail option from the Capitol Corridor study
Manchester Regional Rail option from the Capitol Corridor study

Commuter rail won’t solve all of the state’s problems, but with the study showing that the “Manchester Regional” option will lead to an additional 5,600 new jobs and 3,600 new housing units, with nearly 2,600 daily riders, there’s no question that the investment to build and operate passenger rail would be a plus for the state. Rail commuters in Nashua, many of whom now drive to Lowell to catch a train to Boston, would largely be heading south for work.

That will probably be the case in Manchester, too, but Gray Chynoweth, COO of Dyn, points out that passenger rail between Manchester and Boston would also make it easier for commuters to head north from the Hub to the Queen City. That would make jobs in Manchester more attractive to young people who want to live in a bigger city like Boston, and it would make tech companies and other businesses that rely on young workers more likely to stay and move to New Hampshire. Over time, some of those commuters heading north to Manchester might be attracted by the lower rent, access to the outdoors, and the city’s burgeoning dining scene, and decide to settle in the Queen City, knowing that they could still easily hop on a train down to Boston.

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.

Manchester needs a transportation plan for the 21st century

Forty years ago, traffic planners envisioned replacing now-vibrant neighborhoods with massive highway overpasses in Boston – photo from Cambridge Historical Society

This November marks forty years since Massachusetts Governor Francis Sargent cancelled all highway projects, notably the massive “Inner Belt,” within the 128/I-95 ring around Boston and replaced the cancelled highways with new transit projects. The results are unmistakable: 3,800 private homes were saved, there is a bustling innovation district at Kendall Square instead of a highway interchange, and Boston weathered the Great Recession better than almost anywhere else in the country, in large part by being a desirable urban place to live, work, study and visit.

Nothing as disruptive as the Inner Belt has ever been proposed in Manchester, and downtown Manchester is doing much better than the highway-scarred downtowns in Hartford, Springfield, Worcester and elsewhere in New England. But as the planning study for I-293 north of the new Granite Street interchange kicks off, it’s a good time to start thinking about transportation funding in New Hampshire, and the integration of transportation and planning in Manchester.

Does Manchester really need wider highways? Or with limited funds, would a better local and regional transit system better serve Manchester residents and spur more economic development? And when new transportation improvements are made like the recent interchange at Granite Street, shouldn’t zoning and planning be updated, so that the city gets something more than a suburban-style Dunkin Donuts at such a prominent urban gateway? Continue reading Manchester needs a transportation plan for the 21st century

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

Exec. Council to vote tomorrow on commuter rail study

Potential Capitol Corridor commuter rail route - image from NHBTI

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 a contract to study the project. The study will not cost the state any money, and it will be conducted by in-state contractors. Commuter rail is essential to the future economic competitiveness of southern New Hampshire, and to ensuring that the area remains a desirable place to live, work and visit. This study is vital to showing that, and to moving forward with commuter rail.

Please contact your Executive Council and urge them to approval this crucial study, reminding them that it will cost the state nothing, and will not commit it to do anything in the future.

If you live in the Manchester area, your Executive Council is former mayor Raymond Wieczorek, but it may make more sense to contact Councilor Daniel St. Hilaire, who represents the Concord area, and has indicated that he is undecided but leaning against approving the study.

Please contact them today–tomorrow will be too late!

Great news from Concord today, Gov. John Lynch has vetoed the anti-urban, anti-livability, anti-economic growth bill to repeal the New Hampshire Rail Transit Authority:

Gov. Lynch’s Veto Message Regarding HB 218

By the authority vested in me, pursuant to part II, Article 44 of the New Hampshire Constitution, on June 15, 2011, I vetoed HB 218, relative to the New Hampshire rail transit authority.

I am vetoing this legislation because business leaders, particularly in Nashua and Manchester, has clearly said that this bill will hurt their efforts to grow their businesses, to create jobs and to attract new companies to New Hampshire.

The New Hampshire business community has made a clear statement that it sees rail, in the words of the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, as “a proven economic catalyst that will spur economic development and create jobs.”  Several major companies have made clear that they believe rail will improve their ability to attract workers, access their markets, attract additional customers and grow their businesses in New Hampshire.  In addition, the Manchester and Nashua chambers of commerce both believe that developing the state’s rail infrastructure will assist their efforts to attract new businesses and jobs to the state.  That is one reason both chambers have asked me to veto this legislation.  The Merrimack Town Council, the Bedford Town Council, and the Nashua Board of Aldermen have also passed resolutions expressing support for expanded rail service and the benefits it would bring to their communities.

The support of the business community is validated by an independent study that concluded that the development of rail in the capital corridor could result in more than $2.4 billion in new business sales and nearly 1,000 new jobs created and sustained in New Hampshire in the first twenty years of operation.

HB 218 makes substantial changes to New Hampshire Rail Transit Authority that will reduce its ability to fully consider all transit options for the state. New Hampshire businesses banded together to raise $120,000 to fund the Rail Authority’s grant application without any state funds because they believe a full consideration of rail is important to New Hampshire’s economic future. Going back on our commitment to the businesses who contributed funds to pay for grant applications sends the wrong signal to the private sector about state government’s willingness to stand by its commitments.  We should see the study through to its conclusion with a fully functioning Rail Authority so that we can make informed policy choices about the best way forward for our state.

Concerns about specific provisions in the Rail Authority statute could have been addressed through much more narrowly drafted language that would leave intact important functions of the rail authority.  As currently written, this legislation takes away the rail authority’s ability to enter into contracts with partner organizations, to accept gifts and to work with the private sector on economic development projects adjacent to potential rail sites.

Given the strong concerns among New Hampshire business leaders that this legislation will jeopardize their efforts to grow their businesses and create new jobs, I am vetoing House Bill 218.

New Hampshire passenger rail in jeopary

NH Capitol Corridor route
Image from NHBTI

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 and implementation of commuter rail between Manchester, Concord, Nashua and Boston.  Such a rail line is vital to future economic development and livability of New Hampshire and Manchester.

Continue reading New Hampshire passenger rail in jeopary