Shortage of cash hampers road work

PORTSMOUTH (AP) – Transportation commissioner Carol Murray has described a gloomy picture of the state’s plans for road work because of a shortage of money.

“We are seriously broke to the point where all projects had to move out in the future,” she told members of the Greater Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce.

Her talk Tuesday was one of 21 speaking engagements she is making around the state to deliver the bad news firsthand.

“What the reality is is that our transportation needs are outpacing our ability to pay for them,” she said.

On the Seacoast, she said the main priority was upgrading the Little Bay bridges on the Spaulding Turnpike, but said that project has been delayed from 2008 to 2010, and construction would not be completed until 2016 at the earliest.

The state also has proposed delaying by two years the expansion of the Spaulding Turnpike from two lanes to three from Exit 12 to Exit 16.

Murray said it is important to realize the Little Bay bridges project is not just a regional problem, but a state problem because they serve as the gateway to the rest of the state from the south.

“I am very aware of the problem that you have in the whole area and the chokehold it puts on your businesses,” she said.

Murray said a serious safety issue also must be addressed.

“That section of the Spaulding Turnpike in Rochester terrifies me,” she said.

Rochester officials long have contended it is necessary to expand the roadway because it is the major throughway to the mountains and tourist-heavy ski areas.

A project to add Exit 10 to the Spaulding Turnpike has dropped out of the 10-year plan.

The current price tag for the Little Bay bridges expansion project is about $120 million; the state only gets $130 million a year in federal aid.

Murray said her department is trying several “Band-Aid” solutions. It is installing new weather sensors on the bridges to alert DOT officials when the bridge surface is about to freeze so it can be treated.

The state also has implemented an incident management plan to help clear accidents more quickly and warn drivers if there is an accident on the bridge so they can avoid certain routes.

The state also is looking to promote the 511 program, which is a telephone number people can dial for transportation information and updates.

Murray said New Hampshire receives about $1.06 in transportation funds for every dollar it sends to Washington. Other states receiving less are looking to change that ratio more in their favor.