Road, bridge deterioration cited

A pair of recent transportation report cards confirm New Hampshire has neglected its roads and bridges to make many are unsafe.

The American Society of Civil Engineers gave the state’s roads a grade of “C” in January and its bridges a “C+”. Despite major highway projects in the southern tier, the report said 11 percent of the arterial highways turn to gridlock at peak hours. In addition, 36 percent of state-owned roadways need major repairs, and another 52 percent could use better maintenance. Some 312 state bridges need major repairs or are obsolete, and another 589 local bridges are in similar shape, the report said.

In response, Executive Councilor Ray Burton, R-Bath, renewed his long-standing call for a higher gasoline tax to keep up with the needed capital projects. He said a broad coalition should start mustering support for the change after the general election in November.

“I don’t see many people behind me in that parade,” he said. “But these grades are not good. We’ve had no hike in our gas tax for 15 years. Vermont just raised its tax 4 cents. Maine has indexed its tax to go up from time to time.”

Rep. Gene Chandler, R-Bartlett, who heads the House Capital Budget Committee, said turnpike tolls have stayed the same since 1989, adding: “It will take a lot of public support to address the funding issues,” he said.

The same engineering report praised the state for taking 26 bridges a year off the “red list,” which names bridges in need of critical repairs — a pace that would bring them all up to par in a decade, if funding allows. But Transportation Commissioner Carol Murray told lawmakers Tuesday revenue for the proposed 10-year transportation plan is $500 million short. She has identified 300 miles of roads in need of major routine maintenance this year, but there’s barely enough money to top most of them with fresh pavement, she said.

“We had the wettest fall in history,” Murray told Chandler’s committee. “ The winter had seven cycles of freezing and thawing with all that water under the pavement. There are state roads where you can’t go faster than 30 or 35, and I’m not sure they’ll all flatten out this summer. We’re just painting most of the miles black to hold them together.”

Murray said the bridges on Interstate 93 were built 50 years ago with a life expectancy of 50 years.

The national nonprofit research group TRIP this month gave New Hampshire highway infrastructure even lower grades — a pair of “D”s — saying 47 percent of the roads and 32 percent of the bridges are substandard. TRIP officials urged lawmakers at a press conference Tuesday to spend more to ease congestion and safety problems. Population has increased 17 percent since 1990, and traffic volume has gone up 34 percent. The death rate is 139 people per year in traffic accidents since 2000. Rural roads have 1.77 fatalities for every 100 million vehicle miles traveled. That’s twice as many as for main highways. – CHRIS DORNIN/GOLDEN DOME NEWS

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