For the towns and businesses along the I-93 corridor, the state’s unfinished major road expansion project means more time in limbo. The town of Windham has been enduring major construction delays and changes for several years. Several roads in town are supposed to be moved and the new I-93 exit is only half finished.
The state of New Hampshire needs $365 million to finish its ambitious plan to widen Interstate 93 in the southern part of the state, just as lawmakers in Congress vow to cut state transportation funding, which could reduce the state’s road project funding by $40 million a year.
The New Hampshire Department of Transportation says much of what has already been started on I-93 is now on hold because of the uncertainty over funding.
“It doesn’t just affect the interstate and the exits,” says Laura Scott, Windham’s Director of Community Development. “A lot of it is in our commercial districts where businesses have made plans to do expansion to rearrange their business.”
One of those businesses is owned by Alex Ray. Ray has a restaurant chain called the Common Man. He was originally told he would have to move his Windham establishment because the state needed his land to expand the interstate. Ray bought another lot nearby to move the restaurant, but then the state changed its design plans and told him he could stay if he made major structural changes.
“They said the wall to the highway will be 30 feet high and it will be right at your front and you wont have a septic system, that’ll be gone and your parking lot will be disappearing, ” says Ray.
Ray made the changes to the Common Man but is waiting for the state to finish I-93 so the rest of the land will be released next to the lot he bought when he thought had to move his restaurant. Without that other parcel, he can’t develop the land into an inn he wants to build there.
“The land I own is valueless until they finish that part of the project,” says Ray. “Its means I’m paying for it without using it, it’s called green bananas and you can only buy so many green bananas to wait for them to ripen.
The state depends on the federal government to fund the I-93 expansion.
“If we lose the federal money we really are pushed against the wall,” says State Senator Jim Rausch who represents Windham. Rausch plans to introduce a bill to get New Hampshire lawmakers to find state funding to complete I-93. But this group of current legislators have made a pledge to voters to not raise taxes and fees and that would make it extremely difficult to find a state revenue source to fund the highway project. Still, Rausch is hopeful that his colleagues will find a way.
In order to complete I-93, says Rausch, “we will have to come up with a way to fund that and that’s going to be some real soul searching on everyone’s part.”
Without a resolution, business development in Windham will likely remain on hold, says Laura Scott. That’s because businesses cannot make planned changes until they know when I-93 will be done, she says.
“If 93 doesn’t continue we’re going to have pieces of roads and pieces of bridges hanging out into the abyss,” she says.