No Funding is Status Quo for Exit 4A, I-93 Widening

Though they agree on its importance to the region, state transportation officials said the widening of Interstate 93 as far as Manchester and the related Exit 4A project will not happen until there is a dedicated funding source.
New Hampshire Department of Transportation (DOT) Commissioner Chris Clement; Bill Cass, Director of Project Development for the DOT; David Preece, executive director of the Southern New Hampshire Planning Commission; and Transportation Manager David Walker of the Rockingham Planning Commission participated in a forum Wednesday night, Sept. 25, in the Derry Municipal Center. It was sponsored by the Governor’s Advisory Council on Intermodal Transportation (GACIT) and is one of 25 being held around the state to present and discuss the draft 10-Year Highway Plan for the state.

A similar meeting was recently held in Londonderry, as the Londonderry Times and Nutfield News reported.
The widening of I-93 from Salem to Manchester, passing through Derry and Londonderry, and the proposed Exit 4A off I-93 into Derry are on the plan, Clement said. But until there’s funding, that’s where they will stay,
About 25 people attended the meeting, including Republican State Reps. John O’Connor and David Milz of Derry; Democratic State Rep. Mary Till of Derry; State Sen. Jim Rausch, R-Derry; Derry Planning Director George Sioras and Derry Town Councilors Michael Fairbanks and Tom Cardon.
Clement opened the meeting by calling the improved I-93 “the road paved with gold.” He said, “Even when I go up north, people are asking about it. The sooner we get it done, the better.”
Cass explained the funding formulas and where the federal dollars go. Federal highway aid, $150 million this year, makes up about half the funding of the 10-year plan. “That drives our paving and bridge projects,” he said. “There is very little state money.” Only 9 percent of funds for implementing the 10-year plan will come from state funds.
And because of inflation, he said, “Every year we get less out of our level-funding.”
The federal money goes to general preservation, maintenance and upkeep of highways. Of that, $65 million to $75 million goes to paving, replacing guardrails and dealing with red-list bridges; $28 million goes toward mandated federal programs; $16.5 million to I-93’s current debt service; and $11 million to engineering and right-of-way issues. The above needs eat up $125 million, leaving about $25 million for projects brought forth by the state’s regional planning commissions.
This year the Southern New Hampshire Planning Commission (SNHPC) submitted $687 million worth of projects, and the Rockingham Planning Commission submitted $400 million, Cass said, adding, “We have more needs and priorities than we have resources to address them.”
Preece described the process of identifying projects, which began in January of this year when staff members of both Planning Commissions met with planning boards in their communities. “We stressed mobility, safety, maintenance of the infrastructure,” he said. Following the initial meetings, the planning commissions sent letters soliciting projects from the communities. The towns were asked to rank the projects in order of importance. SNHPC received 27 new projects, he said.
The projects were evaluated by Preece’s staff beginning in March and included the 27 new projects, 16 already in the 10-Year Plan and 23 in the regional transportation plan, he said. Projects were evaluated by eight criteria, including mobility, potential for success, safety, economic development, “network significance,” environmental impact, state of repair and support from the local community. Through the process, three projects were ranked highest: the F.E. Everett Turnpike, widening of Route 101 and Pettengill Road in Londonderry.
“But the needs,” he said, “outweigh the funds that are available.”
Walker said his Planning Commission followed a similar process. “We cut it to a short list of 70 projects,” he said, and noted that 10 of these made it to the 10-year plan.
Walker said he was pleased that the local communities have more of a say in the listing process.
But that still doesn’t mean there’s enough money. Walker said, “We believe strongly that the current funding of transportation in New Hampshire is inadequate, and we support efforts to address the shortfall.”
I-93 is important, Clement said, then added, “But we can’t let the rest of the state fall into disrepair.”
The states are required to match funds for the federal highway dollars, but since 2005, New Hampshire has not been sending in its matching funds, Clement said. The federal government is instead allowing the state to use “turnpike toll credits” for its 20 percent match, he said.
Cardon spoke in the public comment portion and said his two biggest concerns on Exit 4A are, “How much will it cost and who pays for it.”
Cardon, who’s been studying 4A for years, noted that the exit alone will cost $40 million to $50 million, and the roadwork to Route 102 was estimated at $25 million to $30 million several years ago.
Cardon observed that the proposed exit wouldn’t benefit Derry economically because most of Derry’s land is already developed. “It’s more beneficial to Londonderry, and more beneficial to the surrounding towns like Chester and Auburn,” he said.
He’s also concerned that no one can produce the contract Derry supposedly signed for its share of the exit project, and said, “Until we see the contract, I don’t think Derry should pay anything.”
Peter Griffin, a community activist from Windham, noted that the widening of I-93 has been talked about for 30 years. He believes it can be done, noting, “Massachusetts wanted to widen Route 3 from Nashua to Burlington, and it only took three or four years. I’m concerned with our legislative delegation not undertaking this project because they don’t have the funding.”
Clement said the DOT needed to strike a balance, and he thinks a funding source would be found before the environmental permits lapse in 2020.
“I’ve gone to GACIT meetings forever,” Griffin said. “Why hasn’t the Legislature provided funding?”
It’s not from lack of trying, Rausch said. “I-93 is our top priority,” he told Griffin and the audience. “We want it widened to four lanes.”
An Exit 4A is also necessary, Rausch said, observing, “Exit 4 is in failure.”
He listed his legislative work to this point, including sponsoring the Garvey Bond that got $195 million for the current widening of I-93 in Salem and at Exit 5 in Londonderry; co-sponsoring the expanded gambling bill, which failed, with the intent of using profits for highways; and sponsoring a bill to extend the widening of I-93 to Manchester.
“I will be sponsoring and co-sponsoring legislation during this session to get this done,” he said.
“It is not a Derry problem,” Rausch said. “It is a regional problem.”

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