House bill could derail transit line

Friday, February 18, 2011



High-speed rail in New Hampshire took one step closer to becoming a reality thanks to the Obama administration.

President Barack Obama pressed ahead with his vision of building a national rail network Feb. 8, when Vice President Joe Biden unveiled a plan to spend $53 billion dollars on high-speed rail projects and passenger trains connecting cities over the next six years.

Since that time, the New Hampshire rail authority has secured $4.1 million dollars in federal money towards environmental work and planning to help secure a commuter rail line from Boston to Concord, according to Bedford Town Council Chairman, Mike Izbicki.

But that project is headed for a train wreck in New Hampshire according to Izbicki, if local lawmakers pass HB 218, championed by Rep. Dan McGuire, R-Epsom.

Though still in preliminary hearing stages, the House Transportation Committee voted, 11-5 on Wednesday to recommend passing the repeal bill.

Lawmakers want to eliminate the New Hampshire Rail Transit Authority, according to McGuire.

Although the authority is not receiving state funding, only federal right now, McGuire said. “Opponents say they need to send a message that trains are too expensive and impractical for the Granite State.”

But Izbicki disagrees.

“If this bill is passed, the train is going to be going around (not through) New Hampshire, which is definitely going to hurt economic growth, especially in Bedford,” Izbicki said. “If we say no to these grants, it is going to be 30 years before we have rail in this state.”

McGuire argues that it is a “ridiculous amount of money” to get people from here to Boston.

Izbicki emphasized that not a “single state dollar” has been used to date on this project in New Hampshire.

But McGuire said his problem is not with where the money comes from now, but rather who will pay later.

“(It) starts with federal funds, but it will be state money eventually paying for it in the long run,” he said. “It will be federal money to build it initially and state funds to run it in the end. I think it is a mistake to spend and waste money, whether it is state or federal money being wasted, we are all taxpayers and we are all patriots. Getting people to build these kind of things is not a good idea for the country.”

Plans will bring full commuter rail service from Manchester’s downtown to Boston’s North Station with 12 to 15 round trips per day during the week and eight to 10 round trips per day on weekends, serving between 3,000 and 4,000 riders per day.

Although still five years away, the rail is on target to stop on the Bedford/Merrimack line just south of the new airport access road on the west side of the Merrimack River.

A high speed line would create jobs, spur the economy, and provide passengers with commuter and transportation options, according to Mark Richardson, president of New Hampshire Businesses for Transportation and Infrastructure, a nonprofit group committed to ensuring the creation and expansion of public transportation infrastructure in New Hampshire.

Richardson said the people of New Hampshire are aging and there is a need to attract younger people to the area.

“We have to invest a small amount in better infrastructure and get people out selling New Hampshire. We have to sell southern New Hampshire as a place for them to set up shop,” he said.

But McGuire argued that rail service is more likely to drive people out of state for work.

“Rail transports jobs out of New Hampshire, not keeps them in,” he said.

“We just don’t have the density to support bus, rail and subway to make rail work. It is not a big advantage to take the train.”

Richardson said he doesn’t think the statistics are there yet to back that up and simply abolishing the rail authority is premature.

“If you abolish the rail authority, what you are really saying is that you don’t care, but from a sensible perspective, we should wait until the studies are finished to make a conclusion,” he said.

“What it really comes down to are people acting from bloody-minded ideology, not acting from the statistics or the facts that we don’t have yet.

“If we wait for 18 months and we have the studies, then the argument might be valid.”

McGuire added that we have had rail since the 1800s “this is not new,” he said. “Transit exists throughout the country. It hasn’t worked anywhere else, why would it work here?”

For Izbicki, who believes strongly in continuing to study bringing rail service through New Hampshire, he urged people who agree to contact their legislators and press them to fight for it.

“The best way you can help return commuter rail service to New Hampshire is by contacting your state and local representatives.

“Give them a call, send them an e-mail or write a letter expressing your support for the project.”

The bill will likely go for a vote before the full House of Representatives next week.

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