Ray, McLear seek to team up on another I-93 rest area

Proposal calls for facility similar to developers’ Hooksett project

A proposal by a private consortium to acquire the 89-mile turnpike system in New Hampshire has been shelved, but the Public-Private Partnership Oversight Commission last month agreed to consider plans for a full-service rest area at Exit 23 in New Hampton, similar to the ones on Interstate 93 in Hooksett.

The commission expressed interest in the proposal by Alex Ray of the Common Man family of restaurants and Rusty McLear of Hampshire Hospitality Holdings, the team that transformed the rest areas in Hooksett, to undertake a similar project further north at Exit 23, where the highway intersects with Route 104 leading west to Bristol and east to Meredith.

Ray told the commission that what the partners call “New Hampton Commons” could either replace or complement the existing rest areas in Canterbury and Sanbornton, both of which operate limited hours and offer sparse amenities.

He said that some years ago he purchased 5.5 acres at the interchange of I-93 and NH 104 abutting both a Department of Transportation facility, which includes a park-and-ride lot, and an Irving gas station.

Ray told the commission that the rest area would be built, managed and operated by a private entity without state, federal or municipal funds.

The rest area would include fast food and restrooms as well as a walking area for pets and other related amenities. A cooperative agreement with Irving Oil Company, he explained, would link the rest area to the fueling station next door.

The facility would be built with a rustic motif and feature a colonial structure built in the 1800s and still standing on the site. Once approved, the project could be completed in approximately 18 moths at a total cost of $2 million to $3 million he said.

Turnpike privatization proposal

The Legislature established the commission — known as the P3 Commission — to pursue the notion that “public-private partnerships allow for the sharing of resources to finance, design, build, operate and maintain transportation infrastructure projects and are especially effective when limited financial resources are available.”

The proposal to acquire and operate the three turnpikes — the Everett, Blue Star and Spaulding — as well as construct and operate rest areas along them was among the first round of proposals submitted in response to the commission’s solicitation.

The consortium consists of the John Laing Infrastructure Fund, a closed-end investment firm headquartered in the Channel Islands, Love’s Travel Stops and Country Stores of Oklahoma City and Subcon Inc., a contractor and developer based in Tulsa, Okla. The John Laing Infrastructure Investment Fund, founded in 2010, has financed a portfolio of 38 projects in the United Kingdom, Europe and North America with a net asset value of $1.2 billion, including 23 service plazas in Connecticut developed in tandem with Subcon, Inc. Love’s operates around the clock at more than 440 locations in 41 states, with an emphasis on serving the growing volume of truck traffic.

But NHDOT Commissioner Victoria Sheehan, chair of the commission, said that it was not an appropriate time to consider privatizing the turnpike system and suggested the issue was a matter for the Legislature. However, she added that the commission remained interested in the consortium’s proposal for rest areas and fueling stations on the turnpikes.

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