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State highway plan called 'fiscally restrained'

CONCORD — The Governor's Advisory Commission on Intermodal Transportation finalized its recommendation of the state's 10-year highway improvement plan Wednesday and sent it to Gov. Maggie Hassan.

The approximately $3.5 billion plan will serve as the blueprint for state transportation construction projects for the next 10 years, but a separate section includes more than $1 billion in additional projects that will not be funded without a toll or gas tax increase, something that is uncertain.

The committee, which consists of the executive councilors and Department of Transportation Commissioner Christopher Clement, wanted to emphasize safety and maintenance of the highway infrastructure, said chairman District 5 Councilor Debora Pignatelli, D-Nashua. "This is a very fiscally constrained plan," she said. "The DOT did the best they could with the funding available."
The unfunded projects include finishing the Interstate-93 expansion between Salem and Manchester, which is currently $250 million short of what's needed, as well as $550 million in other turnpike projects, $250 million in aeronautics projects, and $300 million for the Capital Corridor passenger rail project.
Pignatelli said the commission did not include money for the Capital Corridor project because a feasibility study will not be completed until late 2014.

Among the other projects not funded in the plan are: widening I-93 from the I-89 junction in Bow to Exit 16 in Concord from two to three lanes, costing $194 million; reconstructing and reconfiguring Exits 6 and 7 on I-293 in Manchester, costing $143 million; widening the F.E. Everett Turnpike from Merrimack to Bedford from two to three lanes, at $70 million; reconstructing the Exit 6 interchange, rehabilitating the General Sullivan Bridges and rebuilding toll plazas on the Spaulding Turnpike, $85 million; building open road tolling at the Bedford Toll Plaza on the F.E. Everett Turnpike, for $18.5 million; and a few smaller projects such as removing the F.E. Everett Turnpike Exit 12 tolls.
Clements has said he wants the projects noted in the plan. "For the sake of transparency, I wanted to put in the turnpike projects that are not funded in the 10-year plan to show the shortfalls," he said.
Projects that are funded in the plan are replacing the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge over the Piscataqua River between Portsmouth and Kittery, Maine, and much of the work for expanding the Spaulding Turnpike from Dover to north of Rochester.
The commission agreed to add about $188,000 to the plan for the state match for federal funds for local transit systems which will bring funding to what it was in 2009.

She said the additional funding will help older citizens and those without driver's licenses or cars.
"It is clear to me we need to do something about raising additional funding to keep our roads safe and maintained," Pignatelli said. "Without additional funding, we are going to face some serious consequences."
Pignatelli said the council did not discuss raising tolls as that is something Gov. Maggie Hassan would have to bring to the council.

The council decides toll increases but lawmakers decide what the gas tax is, and since 1991 lawmakers have defeated every attempt to raise it, including last year when a 12-cent increase over three years was proposed.
The plan recommended by the commission assumes the state will receive about $150 million a year in federal highway funds coming to the state.

Hassan will review the plan and make her recommendations before sending it to the legislature, which will do its own review and make its own recommendations before acting on it in the spring.

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