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In rail study, restoring service in central, southern NH is focus

MANCHESTER — One of the alternatives in the "capitol corridor" rail study would put express buses on the shoulder of Interstate 93, saving anywhere from eight to 22 minutes over peak travel times to Boston.

As New Hampshire works on expanding I-93 from Manchester to the Massachusetts border, the "bus on shoulder" scenario is being considered as part of a multimodal transit booster, twinned with the possible restoration of passenger rail along the corridor.

An advisory committee to the New Hampshire Capitol Corridor feasibility study heard the preliminary alternatives Tuesday at the Southern NH Planning Commission in Manchester.

As the consultants and committee continue to refine rail and bus options this year – working toward a preferred state recommendation late in 2014 – a combination of both has merit, said Kenneth Kinney, a transit consultant with URS Corp., during the presentation. URS is working on the study with New Hampshire Department of Transportation and various stakeholders, including municipal, elected officials and bus operators.

"Can we do it all? The answer, I think, is yes," said Kinney.

The prominent option under study is the restoration of passenger rail connecting Concord, Manchester, Manchester-Boston Regional Airport and Nashua to the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority tracks to Boston. There has been no passenger rail north of Lowell, Mass., since 1967.

Alternatives to be discussed further include intercity rail options, enhanced bus service on shoulders, and a no-build options.

The state-local financial commitment for rail between Manchester and Boston would be $8 million to $10 million annually, according to preliminary analysis. The rough cost estimates are after federal support and fares are taken into consideration, and the source of that local matching funding is still to be determined.

One of the assumptions of the study is that there is no capitol corridor restoration without federal funding.

The Federal Transit Administration and Federal Railroad Administration like the project, Kinney said. He said that a state-federal financial plan for a proposed rail option will not be completed until 2015.

Additional studies are being conducted, including prospective fare surveys and noise monitoring along existing rail lines.

The project website is: nhcapitolcorridor.com. The benefits and objectives, according to Tuesday's presentation, include:

• Addressing the congestion issue at southern end of the corridor, thereby reducing trip times and providing a wider set of alternatives to the automobile.

• Improving access to higher-paying jobs in greater Boston. Commute from New Hampshire; return money to New Hampshire.

• Improving access to other tourism, recreation and cultural attractions in both greater Boston and in New Hampshire.

• Building that employee base to attract new businesses and grow existing ones in New Hampshire.

• Providing additional transit service to the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport.

dtouhy@unionleader.com



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