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May 23. 2014 11:02PM

Negotiators agree on 10-year highway plan

CONCORD — Without discussion, House and Senate negotiators reached a tentative agreement Friday on the state’s $3 billion 10-year highway improvement plan containing three key projects for the state: the Interstate 93 expansion between Salem and Manchester, rebuilding the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge and expanding a section of Route 101 in Bedford.

House Bill 2014 is intended to work with a 4.2-cent gas tax increase signed into law this week by Gov. Maggie Hassan. It’s the first increase in the gas tax in New Hampshire since 1991.

The bill’s prime sponsor, House Public Works and Highways Committee Chair Rep. David Campbell, D-Nashua, said the plan is heavy on maintenance and preservation of the current infrastructure and light on new projects.

At Friday’s meeting between Senate and House negotiators, there was no discussion as the two sides reached agreement on 17 bills including the 10-year highway plan.

The $15.6 million project to widen Route 101 for two miles from Route 114 and Boynton Street intersection has been a top priority for the area but until this year has not been a priority in the 10-year plan.

State highway officials say that section of Route 101 is way over capacity and the scene of more than 500 accidents in the last 10 years. Campbell has called it the most dangerous section of road in the state.

Under the 10-year plan, half of the $32 million generated by the gas tax increase beginning July 1 would be used beginning in 2017 to repay $200 million in bonds to complete the I-93 expansion from Salem to Manchester.

Without the additional money, work would have stopped on the project in late 2016 and the state may have had to renew environmental permits that would expire before the work could be completed.

The plan also addresses replacing the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge in Portsmouth, which is the state’s No. 1 red-listed bridge. The bridge needs to be replaced and the shipping lane widened to accommodate the next generation of freight tankers carrying oil, propone, salt and other products into Portsmouth Harbor.

Maine and New Hampshire will split the cost of the $160 million project that also includes replacing the railroad trestle that carries nuclear waste out of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.

Under the plan, the state would issue Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicles or GARVEE bonds to pay for its share of the work on the bridge, and use about $50 million in federal grant money earmarked for the bridge to continue work on the I-93 expansion and $8 million of the federal money for widening Route 101 in Bedford.

There are a number of turnpike projects in the plan that cannot be funded without a toll increase, which is not being proposed, including expanding I-93 from Bow through Concord and Interstate 293 through the Millyard.

Among the unfunded projects would be eliminating the Merrimack ramp tolls on the F.E. Everett Turnpike when the Bedford toll plaza moves south of the Manchester airport access road, which is also unfunded.

The Exit 12 toll ramp will be eliminated in about two months, costing about $650,000 to remove. The ramp toll elimination was in the gas tax legislation signed by Hassan on Tuesday.

The 10-year plan takes $1.2 million a year earmarked for guard rail replacement and uses it for secondary road rehabilitation projects, and redirects $1.1 million for turnpike exit renumbering to paving projects on rural roads.

The Senate made some technical changes the House needed to approve before the bill becomes law.

The House and Senate will vote on the conference committee report next week.

grayno@unionleader.com


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