The road back from the recession for some towns in New Hampshire could be slowed due to deep budget cuts affecting highway expansion and bridge maintenance.
The state Department of Transportation is grappling with budget cuts of $30 million in motor vehicle fees and a likely $40 million cut in federal highway funds each year.
“Our $140 million 10-year plan is now a $100 million plan,” says Transportation Commissioner Christopher Clement. “The document is a lot slimmer than it was five years ago.”
What that means is that some parts of the $800 million Interstate 93 expansion may be delayed. Clement says the state will not be able to address as many “red list” bridges which call for renovation or replacement. And for many towns throughout the state, the budget cuts mean their road projects have been put on hold indefinitely.
That’s not good news for Hinsdale, in the southwest corner of the state. Since 1986, two of the bridges used to cross the border to Vermont and access the Interstate 91 corridor have been on the state’s 10-year plan for replacement. But in the latest plan, the bridges are now listed in the “delayed” section, with no scheduled date for construction.
“This means business development is dead in Hinsdale,” says Bob Harke, president of the Hinsdale Commercial and Industrial Corporation. Without the prospect of new bridges, Harke says “We are no longer an attractive location for business.”
At 7.5 percent, Hinsdale has a higher rate of unemployment than the rest of New Hampshire, which had an average unemployment rate of 5.3 percent in October 2011. Harke says the town was hoping to attract businesses that could provide good jobs. Hinsdale is considered a gateway to New England because of its access to Interstate 91, and Vermont, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Canada.
But the condition of the bridges is scaring away business, says Hinsdale Police Chief Wayne Gallagher. “The bridges are not user friendly,” he says. “Businesses may not want to relocate because they may not want the liability of driving their tractor trailer across that bridge. You can see by the scars on the guardrails that they don’t go unscathed.”
Unless Congress reauthorizes the Federal Highway Act without the 35 percent cuts promised by Republicans in Congress, Hinsdale bridges will stay on the “delayed” list.
Transportation Department Commissioner Clement says if the proposed federal cuts are restored, delayed projects could move up the list. In the meantime, he is working with the governor and legislators to try to fill the gap in funding from state coffers.
“There is interest from the Legislature to get I-93 finished.” he says.
For more information on the state of New Hampshire’s bridges, take a look at this report from the DOT.