Executive Council puts I-93 update in Concord, Spaulding Turnpike work on hold
CONCORD — Uncertainty over funding two key turnpike projects caused the Executive Council Wednesday to delay acting on two engineering contracts.
The contracts were for projects expanding Interstate 93 from Bow through Concord and the Spaulding Turnpike from Newington to Dover.
The Department of Transportation included about $500 million in turnpike projects in the state 10-year highway improvement plan that currently are not funded, including finishing the Spaulding Turnpike expansion and the I-93 project from I-89 to north of Concord.
The projects were included in the plan for transparency Department of Transportation Commissioner Chris Clement told the council Wednesday, so they could be reviewed but will not be built any time soon without a toll increase.
Clement and the Executive Council, as the Governor's Advisory Commission on Intermodal Transportation, are working to develop recommendations for the 10-year plan and will give its their recommendations to Gov. Maggie Hassan by Dec. 15.
District 4 Councilor Chris Pappas, D-Manchester, said he was uncomfortable spending $1.7 million on an engineering contact with McFarland-Johnson Inc. of Concord if there is no money for the project.
Pappas noted the council was not going to decide in the next two weeks or the next two months whether to increase tolls.
"Is there a shelf-life for this study if we do not come up with the money in the future?" Pappas asked.
Clement said there is and it could need to be updated in the future if some time passes, but said if the engineering work, right-of-way acquisitions and construction contracts do not move forward, the project will not be completed in 20 years.
Clement said the widening of I-93 through Concord, which is often bumper-to-bumper and stop-and-go on weekends, is a top-five priority of the turnpike system.
"This project has been on the books for a long time," Clement said. "There is a congestion issue in that area."
He noted I-93 expansion between Salem and Manchester was put off for years and now costs $550 million.
District 3 Councilor Chris Sununu, R-Newfields, had similar concerns about an $820,000 contract with Vanasse Hangen Brustlin Inc. to determine how much it would cost to fix the General Sullivan bridge to carry pedestrian and recreational traffic.
"There is very little possibility (the rehabilitation work) will come to fruition," Sununu said. "I'd have more confidence in the study if it also included alternatives."
Clement said the federal record of decision for the Spaulding expansion included a provision for the historical preservation of the bridge. At the time the cost was $20 million but is now estimated to cost $32 million or more. He said the analysis will determine whether the rehabilitation is cost effective.
"We do this with all the bridges in the state at some point," Clement said. "People use it every day. It is a good use of the money."
The council tabled both items on 4-0 votes.
The council approved a $850,000 loan to Lakes Region General Hospital for start up costs to establish a designated receiving facility for mentally ill patients at Franklin Hospital.
The center is part of the state's plan to help relieve the pressure on local hospital emergency rooms holding patients who need psychiatric care until room is available at New Hampshire Hospital.
The money will be used to made modification to the hospital so it will meet licensing standards for psychiatric facilities and to hire staff. The money will be paid back over the next 15 years.
"Currently New Hampshire is dealing with a much-publicized crisis of citizens in need of emergency inpatient psychiatric care waiting for extended periods in the emergency rooms of general hospitals for beds to become available at New Hampshire Hospital," said Nancy Rollins, Department of Health and Human Services Associate Commissioner.
Former Manchester School Superintendent Thomas Brennan was awarded a $40,000 contract by the Department of Education to work with schools and school districts in south central New Hampshire.
Brennan will work with the schools on curriculum, instruction and assessment, school improvement and innovation.
The council approved the contract, which will be paid for by federal Title I and II funds.
The council decided to delay a decision on a $2.7 million loan guarantee through the Business Finance Authority for Thomas More College in Merrimack.
The college sought the money to stabilize its finances and to continue its accreditation.
Several councilors want the college to explore other avenues for financing and the BFA to establish a policy governing loans to educational institutions.
Sununu questioned if the 80 percent loan guarantee would help spur economic activity or job creation. The loan would be with First Colebrook Bank.