Passenger rail can restart N.H.’s economic engine

Think about what the economy of the state would look like had we not redeveloped Manchester Airport

According to a preliminary report recently released by the New Hampshire Department of Transportation and New Hampshire Rail Transit Authority, expanded passenger rail in New Hampshire could be the game-changer the New Hampshire economy needs.

The full report is expected next year, but for now, there are two concerns:

 • Will the state’s business community rise to the occasion and champion what could be a huge job creator as well as new economic engine for our state?

 • Can our political leaders put aside their ideological differences to make a positive change?

The decision on whether to expand passenger rail could determine whether New Hampshire’s economy continues to stagnate or markedly improves. 

The preliminary study outlines what many believe will happen if we figure out how to make passenger rail a reality for New Hampshire: It can be the key to restarting the state’s economic engine.

As Thomas Mahon, chairman of the New Hampshire Transit Authority, said, “There is simply no economic development opportunity on the horizon that could transform New Hampshire’s economy like the expansion of passenger rail could offer.”

Passenger rail service between Boston and central New Hampshire will result in higher land values, enhance vital transportation networks in the state, create jobs, improve wages and reduce commuting times – all which will serve as economic multipliers in and beyond central New Hampshire. 

This project will have substantial costs. The preliminary report estimates the capital costs to upgrade existing rail beds and lines, construct passenger rail stops and other related expenses just between Manchester and Lowell, Mass., will be about $246 million. The costs will be higher to extend passenger rail all the way to Concord. The final report will certainly lay out various financial alternatives.

If this debate gets overly politicized and we do not embark on a substantive effort to figure out how to get this done, New Hampshire will continue its dubious distinction of being the last Mid-Atlantic and New England state without meaningful commuter rail service. That is not a distinction upon which to build a 21st century economy. 

Undertaking expanded passenger rail for New Hampshire is important and doable. But it will take a working partnership between the various members of the New England congressional delegation to secure federal funds, businesses leaders to commit to financially support the cost of such a transportation network and state officials to look at our financial commitment in a creative way. 

By being creative, I mean not direct funding by the state, but instead working with the financial community to explore how the incremental business profits taxes and property taxes, resulting from passenger rail, can be targeted to defray bonding expenses. There will also be revenue boosts from parking and rooms and meals taxes as well as ridership commitments from the business sector. 

We can construct a feasible financial package without further burdening taxpayers, by using the tax revenue generated from passenger rail to pay the capital and operating costs of the system. 

The business community and public sector will need to join together to show how we should and can do this.

Just think about what the economy of the state would look like had we not redeveloped Manchester Airport. Or think what the economy of the nation would be like today had we not developed rail service during the 19th century. 

In order to grow a business or economy, one needs to invest. It is time to invest in ourselves and our future. The return on this investment could be a game-changer for the state’s economy.

Mark Connolly owns New Castle Investment Advisors, Portsmouth and is the state’s former director of securities regulation. 

Categories: Opinion