Transportation committee issues final report

A community advisory committee led by state Transportation Commissioner Carol Murray and Lew Feldstein, president of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, has released a transportation plan regarding long-range land use and infrastructure planning, including a number of action items.

“New Hampshire Long Range Transportation Plan,” created by the 24-member committee — made up of state and local officials, business leaders, housing advocates, environmental groups and community organizations — pulls together several recommendations largely emphasizing the concept that transportation and land use are inextricably linked.

The committee held 19 community meetings across the state, soliciting the opinions of citizens, making it one of the first comprehensive transportations plans in the country to do so.

“Business as usual will not meet New Hampshire’s future transportation needs,” said Feldstein, who also served as chair of the panel. “As Commissioner Murray said to us at our first meeting, ‘If you don’t link land use and transportation, both will fail.’”

An important change in the final document from the draft issued earlier in April stemmed from community meetings.

“People really wanted action,” said Feldstein. “These were people that were savvy with land use, environmental issues or health care, but they were discouraged because they did not believe there would be any movement on solutions to transportation issues.”

While the plan does not make specific recommendations how to mitigate growth issues, sprawl and traffic congestion stemming from increased infrastructure — leaving those details to be worked out by the communities themselves — it does identify several key issues needing immediate action:

• The Conway Village project: State Route 16 runs through the center of town creating significant back ups. While a beltway or bypass road is the obvious solution, many business owners on the “Main Street” portion of Route 16 are concerned that potential customers will be siphoned off away from downtown. The goal is to locate the bypass in such a way where through-traffic will not clog the downtown portion of the road, yet create egress to the town’s center that will support businesses.
• Extension of passenger rail to Nashua: Cost and lack of ridership have long been cited as enormous impediments to bringing rail to southern New Hampshire. To mitigate these issues, the city of Nashua is pursuing the creation of Tax Increment Finance Districts as well as zoning to enhance transit oriented development. The state Department of Transportation will serve as a facilitator for this project.
• Implementation of a statewide planning and service delivery program for non-drivers: Using New Hampshire Easter Seals’ Getting There program as a model, the DOT will help support and design a statewide transportation program.
• Reduction of downtown congestion in Concord: The DOT is looking at an offsite “park-and-ride” shuttle service such as the one created and funded by Mary Hitchcock Hospital and other Upper Valley employers as a possible solution for Concord.
While Concord’s traffic congestion may not have the scope of other problem areas in the state, Feldstein said it was chosen because the size of the project was relatively “doable” and the committee needed to pick “a site that was as visible as it was tangible” to government leaders and other stakeholders.
• Interstate 93 community technical assistance: Twenty-three communities will be directly affected by the widening of 1-93, as will some 18 others indirectly, as side-road traffic increases along with other growth issues. The DOT earmarked $3.5 million of federal highway funds to assist these communities in dealing with growth.

A copy of the report is available on NH DOT’s Web site, — CINDY KIBBE

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