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MANCHESTER, N.H. – New Hampshire’s congressional delegation and other local leaders joined U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg in the Millyard on Monday to discuss the importance of the recently passed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act on New Hampshire.
Buttigieg first joined the local leaders for a roundtable discussion at the Manchester Historic Association’s Millyard Museum to discuss the infrastructure funding coming into the state thanks to the bill and other recent pieces of legislation such as the Build Back Better Act as well as other federal infrastructure funding to the city such as the recently awarded RAISE grant.
In particular, there was a focus on commuter rail expansion into Nashua and Manchester, with the backdrop of a pending commuter rail station within walking distance of the roundtable’s location, and that after decades of discussion over expanding commuter rail from Massachusetts into the heart of southern New Hampshire could finally become a reality. Nashua Mayor Jim Donchess said that 90 percent of Nashua residents supported the addition of two new commuter rail stations in his city and Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig also stated the importance of rail for Manchester for economic development.
“For years, the residents of Manchester and the business community have been advocating for rail,” said Craig. “Now with the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act it really feels like we have the momentum and opportunity to make this real and it’s so exciting.”
The importance of rail in facilitating commutes for workers was frequently mentioned, with commuter rail access expanding the amount of reachable in-person jobs for New Hampshire workers as well as expanding the pool of possible employees for New Hampshire businesses. However, that was not the only benefit mentioned at the table. Local business owner Liz Hitchcock, in addition to referencing how the RAISE grant will facilitate pedestrian access from Elm Street to her new housing units at the Factory on Willow Street, mentioned how the new pedestrian traffic coming from commuter rail users would help retail businesses such as the Bookery on Elm Street, which she also owns.
New Hampshire Department of Business and Economic Affairs State Tourism Director Lori Harnois echoed statements from U.S. Representative Ann McLane
Kuster (D-NH-02) on the “ski trains” that once inhabited the Granite State, noting that commuter rail to Nashua and Manchester would facilitate travel to the North Country and Lakes Region.
She also echoed a comment from Buttigieg regarding the lack of investment in American rail systems versus countries elsewhere in the world, noting that foreign tourists expect rail access and younger foreigners often do not obtain driver’s licenses in their countries and need alternate transportation to access tourist locations. U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) also noted that European countries, India and China also spend more on infrastructure than the U.S. and until this legislation, that the U.S. spent less than it did on infrastructure than it did in the 1960s.
Shaheen also noted how commuter rail in the Merrimack Valley could duplicate the economic impact seen from Amtrak’s Downeaster lines on New Hampshire’s
U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH) directly cited maintaining an economic advantage against China as one of the key benefits of the new rail funding and U.S.
Representative Chris Pappas (D-NH-01) echoed the significance of the funding not only for local businesses, but also supporting Manchester-Boston Regional Airport.
Arnold Mikolo of the Conservation Law Foundation noted the environmental benefits of trains reducing the need for cars and International Brotherhood of
Electrical Workers spokesperson Joe Casey cited the importance of the projects in bringing high-paying construction jobs to the area.
In addition to the temporary construction jobs, roundtable facilitator E.J. Powers stated that bringing rail to the region would add 5,600 new jobs and 1,700 new jobs each year starting in 2030. He also said that rail would take 750,000 cars off the roads in Massachusetts and New Hampshire each year.
Along with rail, members of the congressional delegation noted the federal funding for other initiatives such as PFAS mitigation, increasing high-speed internet access and restoring distressed roads and bridges, with Pappas stating he hoped the funding would eliminate what he referred to as an invisible “pothole tax” stemming from increased car repairs needed from poorly maintained roads.
Members of the delegation played down the impact of the federal funding on next year’s midterm Congressional elections, accentuating the bipartisan cooperation in completing the various bills as well as the sense that the bills were a response to what they were hearing from constituents, calling the bills as a once-in-a-generation investment in needed infrastructure improvements.
Despite the shift to remote work for many Americans, Buttigieg said that added funding for new infrastructure improvements in rail provides additional options for workers and that this infrastructure funding that focuses on the present and the future and also realizes the innate need for social connection between people.
“The ways in which people move around are changing, but the need to move around is not,” said Buttigieg. “In some places we actually saw an increase in people
moving around, just in different ways. We need to have visions that are flexible because what we might see over the next thirty years may not look like what we’ve seen over the last three years.
Several protesters gathered outside of the event as well to criticize spending on rail, which they say would require continual taxpayer subsidies to keep going and would only benefit a small amount of riders.
“For years, politicians have been trying to sell Granite Staters on a new passenger rail service that would do little to nothing to solve our state’s commuting problems,” said Americans for Prosperity-NH State Director Greg Moore. “With a hefty $11 million price tag, this pet project would only benefit a few riders while resulting crushing fiscal damage for generations to come. Instead of forcing taxpayers to foot the bill, AFP-NH urges lawmakers to oppose this boondoggle and focus on the real needs of their constituents. We need 21 st century transportation solutions that are modern, efficient and practical, not expensive 19th century technology that doesn’t solve today’s problems. New Hampshire taxpayers deserve better than being forced to embrace someone else’s nostalgia.”