N.H. DOT draws up stimulus package wish list

Hoping to cash in on any infrastructure economic stimulus package from the incoming Obama administration, the New Hampshire Department of Transportation already has a draft of a $500 billion wish list.

Almost all of the first half of that money (some $230 million) would be used for highway projects that are ready to go within 180 days, with $75 million going toward the widening of Interstate 93 and another $55 million for the Conway bypass.

Rail transportation may not figure prominently on the $230 million short list, with only $8.5 million listed as being used for repair of the St. Lawrence and Atlantic line, primarily for freight in the North Country.

But the next $300 million – to be spent on “projects that may require longer lead time” — would all go toward extending the commuter rail line from Lowell through Nashua to Manchester.

The state DOT drew up the list in response to a request from the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials to prepare for President-Elect Obama’s charge to Congress that a massive economic stimulus package be ready for him to sign when he takes office on Jan. 20.

The size of any such package is still very much in doubt, and it is unclear how much would go for transportation, and of that how much would be shared with the states. Still, with some people talking about a stimulus package matching the $700 billion Wall Street bailout, local officials are thinking big.

New Hampshire usually gets about a half-percent slice of the federal pie, so if Washington “only” doled out $100 billion for state transportation projects, the state DOT would need to be ready to put $500 million to work pretty quickly.

The money could not come at a better time. The state DOT has had to stretch its 10-year plan into the next generation with the federal money it has coming in now, and there has even been talk of raising the fuel tax.

At the very top of the DOT list is some $30 million for I-93 exit ramps and bridges between Salem and Manchester. That was penciled in for next year anyway, but there were concerns about funding and cash flow. Next up? Some $18.5 million to fix the posted Connecticut River Bridge in Lebanon, a big headache for commuters and truckers trying to get back and forth to Vermont.

Other road projects on the list include some $16.5 million for Interstate 89, $13 million for Route 101, $20.6 million for ramp and bridge construction in Bedford and Manchester, $11 million for the troubled Piscataqua Bridge in Portsmouth, $5.5 million for Interstate 95 on the Seacoast, and $4.7 million for Route 9 Bridge replacement in Dover. – BOB SANDERS