Sen. Woodburn supports gas tax increase for 1st time, Rep. Hammon will again

Lancaster Assistant Fire Chief Steven Jones, left, Lancaster Fire Chief Randy Flynn, Commissioner of Transportation Chris Clement, District 1 state Sen. Jeff Woodburn of Dalton, Assistant Commissioner & Chief Engineer Jeff Brillhart, and NHDOT District 1 engineer Brian Schutt of Groveton rode in a town-owned Lancaster Ambulance on Friday, Dec. 27, 2013, on a loop of state-owned roads in Lancaster and Groveton that are also supposed to be state-maintained that are in poor shape, giving patients as well as youngsters on school buses a very rough ride. Photo by Edith Tucker. (click for larger version)
January 08, 2014
LANCASTER — State officials, including Commissioner of Transportation Chris Clement, plus town employees rode in an ambulance in an information-gathering trip organized by state Sen. Jeff Woodburn, a Democrat of Dalton.

The freshman senator said that he knew he would soon be asked to vote for an increase in the gasoline tax.

Sen. Jim Raush, a Republican of Derry, is drafting a bill that calls for increasing the gas tax by 4.5- to 5-cents, starting July 1, under a formula tied to the official cost of living adjustment (COLA) figure.

Within days of this excursion, Woodburn decided that the threat to underfunding improvements and maintenance of the state's vital highway transportation system was trumped by his dislike of increasing taxes and that he would vote "yes" on the Raush bill. Woodburn voted against a much larger increase to the gas tax in the 2013 session.

The Senate rejected the bill that called for a three-year 12-cent gas tax increase by a two-to-one margin that the House had overwhelming passed.

If the Raush bill passes, it would be the first increase to the gas tax in 23 years.

At a Dec. 3 House Public Works and Highways Committee hearing, Clement and other NHDOT spokesmen predicted there would be dire results in the not-too-distant future if more dollars weren't pumped into the Department.

Employee layoffs, shuttered salt sheds, numerous red-listed bridges left unrepaired, no further work done on widening I-93 after the current contracts are completed, and — of particular concern in the North Country — more state roads now considered in good-to-fair condition would slip into poor condition, meaning that no repaving work would be done on them.

Public Works Committee member Rep. Marcia Hammon, a Democrat of Whitefield, said that she had been on hand on Dec. 3, 2013, when the commissioner addressed the state's highway infrastructure problems, especially bridges and the roads that need attention. "He spoke with directness, clarity and urgency," she said. He testified that unless additional monies are made available now, repairs in the future will require five times as much money as now being asked for today. "The overwhelming majority of House members realized last year that the crisis must be faced rather than 'kicking the can' down the road," Hammon said in an e-mail exchange. Clement's latest analysis confirmed that he is facing a crisis of huge proportions, explained the freshman rep.

Lancaster Assistant Fire Chief Steven Jones who is also performs many EMS runs in the ambulance said that many of the secondary state roads are too bumpy for him to satisfactorily start IV fluids or insert nasal tubes with oxygen. "I do those kinds of procedures before we begin the run to Weeks Medical Center or to whatever hospital we're going," Jones said.

Clement said that once a state-owned road slips into poor condition, it costs approximately $1.1 million a mile to do the kind of work needed in order for paving to make a difference.

When a road is in good to fair condition, it is worthwhile to repave it at a cost of approximately $50,000.

About 52 miles of such roads are downgraded to poor every year, which is the costly consequence of deferring maintenance, year after year, the commissioner said.

The cost of asphalt, a petroleum-based product, has gone up 460 percent since the last gas tax increase in 1991, Clement explained. The cost of road salt has jumped 123 percent.

Woodburn pointed out that, like all 24 state Senators, he represent a little over four percent of the state's population, but because of the geographical size of sprawling District I, he has over 20 percent of the state-owned roads.

Both he and Hammon are acutely aware that most Coös residents are hard-pressed to make ends meet. "I am aware of the pain young adults feel commuting to the Berlin or Littleton campuses of White Mountains Community College or wage-earners, driving between jobs, or a parent's unexpected trip to a health provider, or picking up a child at school," Hammon said. "Operating our cars and paying for fuel creates daily stress."

Only days after riding in an egg truck from Pete & Gerry's Organic Eggs business in Monroe and jouncing hard in an ambulance, Woodburn said, "The need is obvious and so is the solution; I'm working to stabilize our fragile economy, and we can't attract tourists and grow our wood-based industries with poor roads."

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