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Little money in transportation plan for North Country

September 23, 2009
LITTLETON–Around 12 people attended a public hearing in the Community House Monday afternoon to hear about the Department of Transportation's (DOT) proposed 10-year plan, which several noted doesn't have much money for the North Country.

The meeting was chaired by Executive Councilor Ray Burton, who noted that significant funds had been put into the White Mountains Airport in Whitefield. He also said that one important goal of any transportation plan was to get people "off of rubber and onto other means of transportation, including their own two feet."

Mary Deppe, the transportation planner for North Country Council (NCC), reviewed how each regional planning council, including NCC, contacted all its towns in January of this year to see what their priorities were. The list was then sent onto the state for review.

Bill Cass, DOT's director of projects and development, reviewed the state process of choosing projects in what he said was a rough economic time. Money received from the federal stimulus plan did little he said except help out with some deferred maintenance.

"We had to look at how best to meet transportation needs in the future," Cass said.

The main goal, he said, is to preserve the current infrastructure. He added it is very dependent on federal highway funds, which make up a large percentage of New Hampshire's highway dollars.

"We live and die on that," Cass said.

An alternative means of funding being considered is putting tolls on Interstate 93 to pay for widening the road, Cass said. No decision has been made about that, however.

Littleton/Lyman State Rep. Rusty Bulis told Cass that people would likely accept a gas tax to pay for roads if they saw the money going to good use.

Littleton Town Manager Chuck Connell said Cass painted a bleak picture that was even worse for the North Country.

"Again it appears the majority of money is going to the southern part of the state," Connell said.

Connell questioned whether the needs of I-93 are greater than those of Route 302. He said that while New Hampshire has done well with the money it has had, more needs to be put into infrastructure.

Connell said that Main Street reconstruction part two, which would complete construction that is currently underway all the way up to the intersection with Meadow Street, is important to Littleton, which many hope to see as a destination community someday.

A letter was presented to Cass with a request to DOT to get funding to help pay for the project, which is expected to cost more than $2 million.

"This can become a community where shoe leather is the main mode of transportation," Connell said.

Several people asked about another North Country project that had been planned but has been shelved—permanently apparently. That was a planned Route 302 bypass of Lisbon and Bath. Cass said it was canceled because soil testing in the area where it was planned determined the ground unsuitable and it was too expensive. Instead the existing road will be maintained and straightened in a few places.

In the North Country, most of the DOT money being spent will be on I-93, though some money is slated for work on Route 302 in Bethlehem in 2011, reconstruction of two miles of Route 302 in Haverhill and Bath in 2013, replacing the Highland Ave Bridge in Littleton in 2012 and one mile of Route 112 in Lincoln in 2011.

Martin Lord Osman
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