Authority stays, rail funds go
Transportation | NH Senate kills $4M in federal funds to continue feasibility study.
By DAMIEN FISHER - Staff Writer
NASHUA – Local advocates of bringing commuter rail to Nashua had a mixed week, with a big victory in keeping the New Hampshire Rail Authority a going concern, but losing out on $4 million in funding to complete the rail feasibility study.
Nashua Rep. Michael O’Brien, a Democrat, said the move to keep the Rail Authority going, despite an effort to disband it, is good news for the city. The Rail Authority is a volunteer group that hasn’t cost New Hampshire taxpayers any money, he said.
“We need that committee,” O’Brien said.
The focus of the Rail Authority will shift, he said, opening it up to consider all forms of transportation that will add to future economic growth.
“Rails is going to be one of the things that we look at,” he said.
The bill was retained, meaning the committee’s decision is essentially one to expand the amount of time to study the measure. Supporters of the authority, including the Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce, said the retain vote is “far from the worst outcome that could have been reached on this bill.”
While O’Brien scored a win for rail, Sen. Bette Lasky, D-Nashua, suffered a defeat with the Senate’s vote to kill $4 million in federal funding for the Rail Authority to study rail as an option for the state.
“I am disappointed that my Republican colleagues continue to put partisan politics before practical solutions to stimulate New Hampshire’s economy, protect the environment and promote tourism,” Lasky said in a statement.
The Rail Authority started the study of commuter rail, looking at bringing trains to Nashua and Manchester. Many balked at an initial estimate of about $250 million for the project, although the majority of that funding would come from federal grants.
Gov. Chris Sununu opposes commuter rail coming all the way to Manchester, but has said he would support an effort to bring the trains to Nashua. Mayor Jim Donchess favors looking at the option, and O’Brien said that may be the next step.
“It would open the eyes of the state,” O’Brien said.
If Nashua gets commuter rail service, it will increase property values, bring in jobs and boost the city’s economy, he said. At that point, the rest of the state may think differently about more rail for Manchester, and possibly Concord, he said.
Damien Fisher can be reached at 594-1245, dfisher@nashuatelegraph. com or @Telegraph_DF.