Concord's a winner, but are rail line, port left out in TIGER cold?

The fate of the two other proposals -- one to upgrade a freight line in the North Country, another to improve the Main Wharf in Portsmouth -- is still unknown


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Downtown Concord has landed nearly $5 million in the latest funding round of the federal TIGER program, but where the other two grant requests from New Hampshire stand is still anybody's guess.

The fate of the two other proposals -- one to upgrade a freight line in the North Country, another to improve the Main Wharf in Portsmouth -- is still unknown as their applicants wait to hear whether or not they will be awarded funds in the latest funding round of the federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER, grant program.

"That doesn't bode well that I haven't heard anything," said Bill Boynton, public information officer for the New Hampshire Department of Transportation, which submitted a grant application for upgrades to 20 miles of railroad track in New Hampshire.

The stretch is part of a 260-mile rail line that runs from Portland, Maine to Montreal, Quebec. The line has been upgraded throughout to accommodate for heavier, faster trains, except for the last 20 miles in New Hampshire. Because the stretch has a lower weight limit than the rest of the line, it's a bottleneck for multi-state freight transport.

Geno Marconi, director of ports and harbors at the Pease Development Authority -- which submitted a request for $11 million for improvements to the marine wharf facility at the Market Street Marine Terminal in Portsmouth -- said he also hasn't heard anything about the status of his application.

"I haven't heard anything -- I haven't had any official notifications from anybody on anything."

His application requested funds to rehabilitate and expand the Marine Terminal wharf along the Piscataqua River, which is the only public access, general cargo terminal on the river. Last year, it handled more than 244,500 tons of cargo. Portions of the wharf were built in 1964 and 1977 and require critical repairs to improve its live load capacity, the request said.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has yet to release an official list of all the grantees, though the names of some recipients have trickled out in advance of the announcement by members of Congress.

Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen announced the Concord grant in a press release on Tuesday afternoon.

Until the USDOT announces all the recipients, it is still possible that the other two projects could receive federal funding, though it may not be likely. NHDOT's Boynton said that the department's federal liaison expects that all the grant recipients would already have been contacted if they were to receive funds.

The TIGER Discretionary Grant program, which is now in its fourth funding round, awards grants on a competitive basis for infrastructure improvement projects that will have a significant impact on the nation, a metropolitan area or a region.

To say that the program is highly competitive is more than an understatement.With $500 million to award in the TIGER IV funding round, the U.S. Department of Transportation received 703 grant applications totaling $10.2 billion in requests from all 50 states, U.S. territories and the District of Columbia.

The third round was even more competitive, with 848 applications requesting $14.5 billion submitted. Only 46 grants totaling $500 million were approved.

In the release, Shaheen said that Concord had been awarded $4.71 million to be used toward its Downtown Complete Streets Improvement Project, which aims to improve the infrastructure in the capital city's downtown.

The city had applied for a TIGER grant for the project in the third funding round, but was not selected.

The funds will support the upgrade of traffic signals, sidewalks and traffic flow in a 12-block section of Main Street. The TIGER grant application indicated that the project would also include the installation of a snow melt system along roads and sidewalks.

In a March letter in support of the funding request, the members of New Hampshire's congressional delegation wrote that despite Concord being central New Hampshire's "primary job base and a critical public gathering point, the city's Main Street offers surface transportation infrastructure that is severely outdated, causing unnecessary traffic congestion and posing safety risks to pedestrians and motorists."

Concord officials estimate that the enhancements will reduce the vacancy rates of downtown buildings, increase property values by 6 percent and create 82 direct jobs.

Other TIGER IV grants have been announced in neighboring states.The Vermont congressional delegation said that the state had been awarded $7.9 million to upgrade the New England Central Railroad line between St. Albans and the Canadian border, and Maine Senator Susan Collins said the Pine Tree State had won $5.2 million to replace the Martin Memorial Bridge in Rumford.

If indeed the NHDOT did not win any funding, "our reaction would be disappointment, but we obviously will continue to try to pursue opportunities to complete that project," said Boynton.

Marconi said he's waiting to see what happens."Maritime transportation is a key in the economy of the United States -- a high percentage of goods consumed in the U.S. are brought in by ocean freight," he said. "We need to have our maritime transportation infrastructure in New Hampshire taken care of." 

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