EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

December 8, 2012

Funding hunt on to complete I-93 widening project

By John Toole

---- — A key funding question for Gov.-elect Maggie Hassan and the new Legislature involves the Interstate 93 widening.

On the campaign trail, Hassan spoke about the need to finish widening I-93, but said that had to be part of a larger discussion of the budget and highway funding.

Those discussions are only now beginning in Concord.

“Gov.-elect Hassan believes we must move forward with finishing the I-93 expansion and addressing other infrastructure challenges throughout the state,” aide Marc Goldberg said.

Last week, Hassan announced a transportation outreach team to solicit input from communities as she prepares a budget to address priorities and aims to create jobs.

She named Bill Parnell, president of the Greater Derry Londonderry Chamber of Commerce, to the panel.

“My transportation outreach team will leverage their expertise from the public and private sectors to help identify our needs and outline ideas for a long-term infrastructure strategy,” Hassan said in announcing appointments.

Departing Gov. John Lynch includes the I-93 widening in his list of priorities for the state.

“I think it’s foolish as a state not to go forward aggressively to the widening of I-93,” Lynch said.

He maintains the project would be an economic boon to the state, opening up development opportunities.

Another $250 million is needed to complete the widening to Manchester.

“We just have to develop the consensus around how we are going to fund it,” Lynch said.

He expressed regret over the repeal of a $30 motor vehicle registration surcharge he said could have largely financed the work. Lynch opposed repeal.

Other possible funding options Lynch predicted would be discussed are gas tax and highway toll hikes.

Sen. Chuck Morse, R-Salem, reappointed as Senate Finance chairman last week, isn’t sure that will happen.

“I don’t know if those will be discussed this year,” Morse said.

He prefers another option.

“Gaming will be discussed,” Morse said. “That’s how I think it should be done.”

Revenue from expanded gaming initially was projected as high as $150 million for the state, but Morse said that figure likely would be lower with competition from Massachusetts.

Lynch has opposed expanded gaming, but Hassan is open to allowing it.

State Department of Transportation Commissioner Chris Clement isn’t presenting a specific recommendation on funding.

“We are revenue agnostic and simply presenting the need for investment,” Clement said. “The Legislature determines if and what the funding source will be, not the NHDOT.”

Patrick Moody, spokesman for AAA Northern New England, said there is a looming highway funding shortfall for New Hampshire.

“Not only is there a need for funding for the widening, but also for the maintenance of the current system,” Moody said.

Help from Washington is no certainty either, although President Obama has pushed creation of an infrastructure bank to finance projects.

“The fiscal outlook in Washington, on transportation and all other spending items, is murky at best,” Moody said. “Transportation spending will be affected by a grand bargain, deficit reduction-tax reform deal.”

Those talks among Republicans and Democrats in Congress are expected to take place throughout next year.

The state is ready, if Washington delivers help.

Earlier this year, the Legislature adopted a proposal from Sen. Jim Rausch, R-Derry, that established a mechanism to issue $250 million in bonds in anticipation of federal highway grants.

Lynch also advocates building the highway out to eight lanes, instead of six, and finishing the job in three or four years to take advantage of reduced construction costs in the slow economy.

He said he is confident highway and environmental officials could reach agreement for that work to take place.