I-93 expansion wins state wetlands permit

A federal judge gave state highway designers some good news last week in a lawsuit by the Conservation Law Foundation over the proposed widening of Interstate 93 between Salem and Manchester.

U.S. District Court Judge Paul Barbadoro ruled the three pieces of the $480 million project scheduled for 2006 could go forward. He set the trial for Oct. 6 and hoped to issue a final order in February 2007.

The project also won its long-awaited state wetlands and water quality permits May 2, which ratify a 1,031-acre habitat protection plan to make up for harming 76 acres of wetlands in the corridor. The mitigation package also includes $3 million to protect the Massabesic Lake watershed and $3.5 million to help communities plan for induced population growth.

State Sen. Bob Letourneau, R-Derry, chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, said the judge’s schedule “means we’re not going to have a two-year delay. Our summer I-93 projects are back on track.”

Summer work includes a new park and ride lot at Exit 5, next to the Waste Management transfer station on Route 28, another at Exit 2 in Salem, and reconstruction of the Cross Street Bridge in Salem.

Rep. Mike Whaley, R-Alton, said the state absolutely must expand the highway, just to catch up with past population growth.

“Slowing that project would hold up road needs in the Lakes Region,” he said. “That’s why we approved bonding for I-93 last year.”

Gary Abbott of the Associated General Contractors of New Hampshire watched the court deliberations and called the outcome great news for firms that need a safe highway. His members hope to win some of the I-93 contracts.

“The judge wants to rule in the case well before he has to make a decision on the first injunction requested, in 2007,” Abbott said. “He didn’t want the court system to be responsible for delaying an important project.”

Plans call for adding two lanes in each direction for 19.3 miles between the Massachusetts border and Manchester. – CHRIS DORNIN/GOLDEN DOME NEWS

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