DERRY — Legislative action is critical if the state is going to address an urgent need to repair or replace its deteriorating roads and bridges.
That was the message at a transportation forum yesterday.
The New Hampshire Department of Transportation is tackling a lengthy list of projects, including 140 “red-listed” state-owned bridges in poor condition, but more funding is needed to continue the work, Transportation Commissioner Christopher Clement said.
That includes completion of the 20-mile widening of Interstate 93 between Salem and Manchester before permits for the $770 million project expire in 2020, according to Clement and Sen. James Rausch, R-Derry.
Clement, Rausch and airport director Mark Brewer of Manchester-Boston Airport were the keynote speakers at a two-hour breakfast forum, “Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” at Brookstone Event Center.
“We are kind of at the home run stretch here,” Clement said of I-93. “It’s the state’s most important project deemed by the Legislature.”
Rausch, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, agreed completing the I-93 widening remains New Hampshire’s most significant transportation priority.
But the key question is how to pay for the remaining $250 million in work that is not funded.
Raush said the Legislature’s approval of expanded gambling is needed to help finish the project. The Senate recently passed Senate Bill 152, co-sponsored by Rausch, that would provide the state with $80 million from the casino licensing fee and $100 million in annual revenue.
Forty-five percent of that annual revenue would be earmarked for transportation projects, ensuring the I-93 project would be finished before permits expire in seven years, Rausch said.
Although the Senate and Gov. Maggie Hassan back the casino bill, its fate remains uncertain in the House.
“How the bouncing ball ends up, we probably won’t know until June,” Rausch said.
Several projects between Exit 1 in Salem and Exit 5 in Londonderry are funded and scheduled for this year. But there’s a lot of uncertainty about what will happen beyond 2015.