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Shaheen discusses local and national issues at North Country Council

May 09, 2012
BETHLEHEM — U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen met a group of local officials and North Country Council members on Thursday afternoon. Transportation concerns were the focus of the meeting.

To start the meeting, Senator Shaheen noted the "beautiful afternoon" in the North Country. She said that cloudy weather broke into sunshine as she passed through Franconia Notch.

During the meeting, the Council provided a list of its transportation priorities. Projects that address safety concerns, including red list bridges, are a high priority item to the Council. Maintenance and preservation projects are also of interest.

The New Hampshire Department of Transportation places certain bridges on its red list. These bridges "require more frequent inspections," according to the state. Although structural deficiencies can place a bridge on the list, the frequency of needed inspections determines whether a bridge goes on the red list. Such bridges are not necessarily the ones in worst shape.

Two bridges in the Littleton area made the Council's list of other high priorities. The red list bridge over a brook at Highland Avenue in Littleton should be replaced, according to the Council. The Bath covered bridge rehabilitation was another red list item of high priority.

Senator Shaheen provided an update on the federal transportation bill. Some progress has been made, but the House and Senate must resolve differences in bills that passed each chambers. She said the Senate version provides $170 million for New Hampshire transportation projects.

Shaheen prefers the Senate version, which she said is "paid for" and "bi-partisan." She suggested that the bill is designed to address transportation issues of concern to the council, such as red list bridges.

Mark Sanborn, federal liaison at the state's Department of Transportation, informed the Senator and the council that "we never forget about the North Country." Sanborn also said that Executive Councilor Ray Burton will make sure his district "isn't forgotten."

Sanborn noted that there are a variety of projects throughout the state. The department, Sanborn declared, will "do the best we can" with the provided revenue. He said there are "many more needs" than resources to meet all transportation needs. He promised, however, that "the North Country will see its fair share."

Senator Shaheen said that the funding mechanism for the federal highway trust fund is part of the problem. The fund gains most of its revenue from the national tax on motor fuels. Difficulties with the fund's finances complicate transportation improvements.

Shaheen also noted that the country spends less of its gross domestic product on intrastructure now compared to the 1960s. European and Asian countries generally spend a much higher percentage. China and India are at about 10%, according to the Senator.

Even with the need to address transportation concerns, Senator Shaheen said that deficit reduction remains vital to the country's health. New revenue should be in the mix, she said. "Tough decisions" across federal programs are necessary. Cuts "aren't going to be pleasant," the Senator noted.

Shaheen remains optimistic about compromise. She suggests that citizens expect a reasonable agreement. The Senator said "I do think we can get there," because an agreement on spending and revenue "is important to the health of our country."

At the end of the meeting, Senator Shaheen received a question about Northern Pass. She said citizens can actively be a part of "the discussion about what happens." In a reference to heavily developed South Florida, Shaheen concluded, "Nobody wants the North Country to look like Fort Lauderdale."

Salmon Press
Martin Lord Osman
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