Parkway, other projects won't get federal help

Nashua probably won’t see any federal stimulus money for local road projects.

While the state Department of Transportation anticipates receiving $137.5 million in stimulus money for projects that can start immediately, none of Nashua’s road and bridge projects apparently fits the “shovel-ready” criterion, DOT spokesman Bill Boynton said.

That means the Broad Street Parkway will have to proceed without the help of the newly-created $787 billion pot of federal funding intended to create jobs and kick-start the flagging economy.

In fact, no Nashua projects appear on a DOT list of highway and bridge-work that can begin by spring.

The DOT has set as a priority such state projects as the widening of Interstate 93 near exits 1 and 2, said Thomas Galligani, Nashua’s economic development director.

“Whether there’s any money left over for cities or towns has not been articulated by the state,” Galligani said.

Alderman-at-Large David Deane, who opposed the $37.6 million bond his board approved for the Broad Street Parkway, said the project has been a low priority for the state transportation department.

Making state projects such as the I-93 widening a priority “gave the DOT an out for not providing funds” for the parkway construction, Deane said.

That widening deserves to have a higher priority than the parkway, he said. “It’s always bottle-necked and there are horrific accidents,” Deane said.

“There are more important state projects than the Broad Street Parkway,” he said.

Boynton couldn’t say with certainty why Nashua doesn’t make the list; DOT officials prepared it, he said. But he added that a federal government requirement for road projects is that they have to start almost immediately to get stimulus money.

“If you’re starting from scratch or are somewhere along the line, you don’t fit this,” Boynton said. “These are ready-to-go projects but the funding hasn’t been there.”

The Broad Street Parkway had been a hypothetical project for about 40 years until last September, when aldermen approved the $37.6 million bond for construction. The two-lane road would connect Broad Street to the downtown Millyard in an attempt to alleviate traffic and boost inner-city commerce.

Construction could start in 2011, but environmental studies and a final corridor design are needed first. Those timelines apparently don’t meet federal standards for the use of stimulus money for road and bridge projects.

Nashua Mayor Donnalee Lozeau is one of many municipal leaders hoping to tap the $787 billion stimulus package to fund a wide array of projects. While the city can still apply for stimulus money for water, sewer, building and railroad projects, its transportation dreams have, by all appearances, been broken.

Aside from the parkway, Lozeau also wanted to seek more than $6 million in street and sidewalk repairs, she said.

Alderman-at-Large Fred Teeboom, who has championed the Broad Street Parkway, described the absence of federal stimulus money as a negative because federal funds could have been used to offset the bond.

Teeboom questioned exactly what state officials meant by “shovel-ready” projects.

“How many projects are shovel-ready? What does that mean, that they’re already under construction?” Teeboom said.

Because the city is eying a new, shortened route, consultants have to upgrade an environmental impact study of the parkway, Teeboom noted.

The upgrade will take a year, and parkway construction can’t begin until the work has been completed, he said.

However, Teeboom said he isn’t a fan of the federal stimulus package to begin with.

“I’m not going to cry about it,” Teeboom said. “It’s like everything else. Everybody’s got their hands out.”

Nearly a third of the money would go to resolving state budget deficits across the nation, thus rewarding bad fiscal management, he said.

Galligani said the absence of federal stimulus money doesn’t mean there aren’t other potential sources for such city projects as the costly combined sewer overflow system on the near horizon.

“The CSO is a huge project,” Galligani said, and the city will be applying to multiple sources for funding.

The DOT list doesn’t mean the long-stalled commuter rail line can’t qualify for stimulus money, Boynton said. That project could be eligible for about $8 billion in high-speed rail funding from the stimulus package, he said.

A Nashua-to-Manchester commuter rail line that would connect with Lowell, Mass., and Boston has been discussed for years, but proponents are hopeful the stimulus package could push it to reality. Nashua is aiming for $300 million in stimulus money to construct the rail corridor and associated infrastructure.

DOT typically gets about $140 million in federal funding annually, Boynton said. The $137.5 million in stimulus money is like getting an additional year’s funding, he said.

The money comes at the perfect time – just as spring nears and construction and repairs typically start, he said.

DOT has already put out bids on an estimated $9.5 million pavement rehabilitation project on Route 101 in Epping-Exeter. It also plans to advertise this week an estimated $31 million project for a new northbound section of Interstate 93 in Windham.

DOT compiled a list of projects – all on the state 10-year plan – that could qualify for stimulus money. That list totals $266 million, so a large handful of projects probably won’t get stimulus backing, Boynton said.