This November, commuter rail in Maine begins running all the way from Brunswick, Maine, to Boston. Meanwhile, Massachusetts is preparing to extend lines from Springfield to Burlington, Vermont. That leaves some people in New Hampshire feeling a little left out.
Peter Burling is the former chair of the New Hampshire Rail Transit Authority. Speaking at an event this week hosted by the New Hampshire Business Industry Association, Burling said that without commuter rail, New Hampshire will lose its competitive edge. “Everybody around us is doing something amazing. We are becoming the donut hole in the economic system,” he told an audience who had gathered in Concord to hear panelists discuss the future of rail in New Hampshire.
Last March, the Executive Council rejected a $3.2 million federal grant to help pay for research determining the feasibility of a commuter rail line from Lowell, Massachusetts to Concord. Without hard numbers, evaluating the costs and benefits of the rail extension is difficult. However, the Nashua Telegraph reports recent figures estimating it would cost “many tens of millions of dollars” to extend a commuter rail line from Lowell, Mass., to Nashua. “Extending it to Concord would cost at least four times as much, upwards of $300 million,” writes David Brooks.
Jay Minkarah — also on the panel convened by the BIA — is Manchester’s Director of Economic Development. He says investment in commuter rail will help Manchester’s economy. “There’s only so much economic development potential that is going to be happening in this broader region,” Minkarah said. “We’re competing particularly for those skilled workers, those younger workers who are choosing to locate for lifestyle reasons.” Minkarah said that many of the high-tech employees his city is trying to attract voluntarily limit themselves to cities where they do not need a car.
But state Representative Sherm Packard, chair of New Hampshire’s House Transportation Committee, said he worries that while the public likes the idea, they won’t like footing the bill. He says both parties are to blame for leaving national transportation infrastructure without adequate funding. Whatever the outcome, he said, Granite Staters should keep in mind that over the next ten years the nation “is going to be $2 trillion dollars behind the eight ball in maintaining our transportation infrastructure system.”
Charlie Arlinghaus of the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy was also on the panel. When an audience member suggested that the bus system to Boston was inadequate for commuting, Arlinghaus came to the bus system’s defense. “I’ve ridden that bus a lot myself,” he said, and suggested most critics of the bus system should give the Concord-Boston bus a try before condemning it. “They’re not dirty, they’re not disgusting. They’re clean, they have wifi… they’re not late.”