Panel is seeking public comment on railroad cost

NASHUA – Although it is uncertain how much economic stimulus money the state could receive for commuter rail, a regional planning agency is accepting public comment on the maximum amount the project could get.

The public comment period is a federal requirement needed to spend the money, should any come, said Steve Williams, executive director of the Nashua Regional Planning Commission.

The NRPC ran a legal notice last week asking for public comment on a $220 million project to construct a passenger rail system linking Concord to Lowell, Mass., passing through Manchester and Nashua along the way.

The NRPC is also accepting comments on spending $80 million to improve the rail line between Lowell and the New Hampshire state line, Williams said.

Written comments would be accepted until March 16, and a public hearing scheduled for March 18, according to the notice.

In order to amend the regional transportation improvement project plan and spend the money, the NRPC is required to accept public comments and hold a public hearing, Williams said.

Because of a tight federal timeline, the NRPC had to post the notice before it knew how much money the state might get for the project, he said.

“If we didn’t do this, we wouldn’t have our ducks in a row,” Williams said.

The $220 million and $80 million figures represent the maximum the projects could receive, he said. “It would be great if we actually did get that amount,” Williams said.

Also, the NRPC is simultaneously receiving public comments not tied to stimulus money, Williams said, such as a $1,000 reduction in a plan to renovate Amherst Town Hall.

A project to purchase capital equipment for the Nashua Transit System, which runs Citibus, includes a combination of stimulus money and money already set aside.

NRPC is asking for comments on a total of $2.27 million. That includes the $1.07 million now in a capital savings, said Mark Sousa, transit system manager.

It’s uncertain how much money the state transportation department would allot to the transit system, he said.

The money could be used to purchase trolleys for a shoppers’ loop in south Nashua, as well as for new software, Sousa said. As for rail, state transportation and N.H. Rail Transit Authority officials have applauded the roughly $200 million to $300 million in the proposed stimulus package earmarked for rail in New Hampshire.

If approved, the state could receive the money as early as this spring, they say.

Although proponents have pushed for restoring commuter rail for years, the idea of linking southern New Hampshire with Boston seemed only fantasy because of the money required.

However, the possibility of receiving economic stimulus money in the package proposed by President Barack Obama has given new life to the project.

One regional rail officials said if the stimulus money doesn’t come through, the rail connection may never happen.

Anyone wishing to comment on the project by the March 16 deadline should write to Tim Roache, NRPC, 9 Executive Park Drive, Suite 201, Merrimack, NH, 03054-2230

For more information, call Roache at 424-2240 Ext. 28.

The public hearing is scheduled for 7 p.m. March 18 at the NRPC office, 9 Executive Park Drive, Suite 201, in Merrimack.

Patrick Meighan can be reached at 594-6518 or