Proposed 10-Year Highway Plan: No Money for 4A

At this time, no plans – and no money – exist to build Exit 4A off Interstate 93 with a westbound ramp.
The New Hampshire Department of Transportation (DOT) held a forum Thursday, Sept. 12, at the Londonderry Municipal Center to discuss the state’s updated 10-year Highway Plan. Representatives of the department said widening I-93 and the building of Exit 4A are not included in the current version of the plan.

Bill Watson, Bureau Administrator for Planning at DOT, took to the dais along with Chris Clement, Commissioner of Transportation, to alert Londonderry area residents to the status of the 10-year Highway Plan. Executive Councilor Chris Pappas moderated the meeting.
The plan was drafted and presented to the Governor’s Advisory Council on Intermodal Transportation (GACIT), consisting of Clement and the five state Executive Councilors, and will be presented to Gov. Maggie Hassan after a final draft late this fall. The hearing was one of 25 hearings being conducted around the state.
Of the $150 million allotted to New Hampshire for highways by the federal government, there is “not a lot left over at the end of the day,” Clement said. “We have priorities and we have constraints.” Projects are submitted by towns to their regional Planning Commissions, ranked in order of priority and re-ranked by GACIT before they make it into the plan.
The department has a list of projects which, if begun, would cost $3.5 billion, and it must balance the pressing needs of maintenance with the current and future needs of the state, Watson said. The department asked each of its nine regional planning commissions to identify one or two “highest priorities,” he said.
David Preece, executive director of the Southern New Hampshire Planning Commission, said he solicited letters from his towns and received requests for 27 new projects.
There were 76 suggested projects costing about $686,646,800 for southern New Hampshire alone, Preece said. Without the expanding of I-93, that’s still $481,650,800, he said, and the allocation after other expenses and requirements is $116 million.
There will be no major program or funding changes, Watson said, and the department will level-fund from last year.
While the expansion of I-93 from Exit 1 to Exit 3 and the work being done on Exit 5 are already funded, there is no money for the additional $250 million needed to widen I-93 from Salem to Manchester, Watson said. “What you see today,” he said of the work underway, “is pretty much what we have been able to fund.”
The state receives $150 million from the federal government for highway improvements each year, Watson said, adding that has remained “pretty much stable.” But the costs for improving infrastructure have risen.
“The buying power of the dollar has eroded,” Watson said. “It’s what we feel in our private lives.”
Clement said, “We are hedging our bets” that the expected $150 million will come in from Washington.
The gas tax, which helps fund highway improvements, has not increased, and the Legislature has not funded the matching portion needed for federal highway grants, Watson said.
There is another mechanism for funding highway expansion, Watson said, explaining that “If you don’t have state matching funds, the federal government will allow you to use money based on your investment in turnpikes.” For New Hampshire, that would be any investment in I-93, I-95, or the Spaulding or Everett turnpikes.
“It allows us to ‘flex’ the federal matching requirements,” Watson said. 
For example, under the regular grant matching system, “if we receive $150 million, we have to come up with 20 percent, or $30 million,” Watson said. But because they have investment in the turnpikes, they are allowed to use the federal funds 100 percent, without a match.
But? There are two “buts,” Watson said. “First, we’d rather have the $180 million we’d get with the match,” he said. “Second, it would require substantial investment in our turnpikes.” But the other side of the funding coin, he said, is, “If we don’t continue to invest, the toll credits will dry up.”
Toll revenues, from the tolls themselves, can only be used on the turnpikes, Watson said.
The proposed Pettengill Road project, which would link Londonderry with the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport, develop 1,000-plus acres and provide thousands of jobs, is not on the list for 2015-2025, Clement and Watson said.
Londonderry Town Manager Kevin Smith expressed disappointment that Pettengill and other needed projects had not made the cut.
“I am obviously somewhat disappointed that the widening of I-93, the widening of Route 102 and the Pettengill Road project are not on the plan,” he said.
Smith added, “We on the local level continue to be interested in moving this forward.”
Debra Paul, a Londonderry resident and owner of Nutfield Publishing, which publishes the Londonderry Times, Tri-Town Times and Nutfield News, said she had heard that at one time, DOT wanted a road with direct access from I-93 to the airport and Londonderry had balked. “I talk to a lot of business owners,” she said, “and one thing they’re looking for is that ‘circle.’”
Watson said that at one point an access road to I-93 had been planned, but “feedback from Londonderry” suggested the town did not want it. They ended up with an access route from the Everett Turnpike through Merrimack to the airport, and “it ends there,” Watson said. “Anything going forward will have to start from scratch.”
Paul observed that, “It won’t help the state or the airport unless we have better access.”
Exit 4A
The additional $250 million needed to fund the expansion of I-93 from Salem to Manchester, including portions of Derry and Londonderry, would also include funding for the building of Exit 4A, Watson said. “A better way to describe it,” he said, “would be the building of 4A East. The interchange, if built, will connect with the local roads east of Route 93.
“There are no plans,” he said, “to build an interchange open to the west or to any proposed development,” referring to the Woodmont Commons project in Londonderry. The Master Plan for the 600-plus-acre Woodmont Commons was approved by the Londonderry Planning Board Sept. 11.
Clement said the plans for widening the highway include a diamond interchange at the proposed Exit 4A. 
“We agree that I-93 is the road paved with gold,” Clement said. “We just need to find a dedicated funding source.”
The project is currently unfunded.
“It is just a stub,” Watson said of any perceived western egress, and it is not on the current plans. The only plan is the one with an eastern exit, he said. If in the future a western exit is proposed, it must undergo an environmental impact study and the permitting process, he said.
Londonderry resident Ann Chiampa, who said residents of Londonderry do not want an exit 4A west, asked DOT officials to make it clear who they are.
“I saw the announcement of the meeting and I thought, ‘GACIT?’ The average resident doesn’t know what that is.”
“We in government deal with a lot of acronyms,” Watson said.
The DOT will hold another meeting on the 10-Year Plan on Wednesday, Sept. 25, at 7 p.m. at the Derry Municipal Center.

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