Last week, we reported on the public hearing that was held in the House Transportation Committee on SB 63, the bill filed by Senator Bette Lasky to change the make-up of the Rail Transit Authority Board of Directors, from its current unwieldy structure with almost 30 members into a smaller and nimbler body that would be advised by a newly created Advisory Board. This week, a subcommittee of House Transportation met to look at SB 63 in more detail.
During the course of the discussions, Patrick Herlihy from the Department of Transportation said that the governance model which is embodied in SB 63 was developed after looking at the way that similar types of entities are set up in other parts of the country. The goal of SB 63 is to make the Authority more functional, while at the same time giving a wide variety of interested parties and regions of the state an effective way to furnish input.
One of the reasons that the subcommittee was appointed was to look at a possible amendment that was suggested by Nashua Representative Mike O'Brien, a member of the Transportation Committee, to ensure that there would be legislative participation on the new Board of Directors. The subcommittee originally was leaning toward having the legislative members come from the Transportation Committee, but ultimately the subcommittee settled on a more flexible approach that would give the legislative appointments to the Speaker of the House and to the House Minority Leader. This solution would allow each party to appoint the person best suited for the job, whether that legislator comes from the Transportation Committee or from some other committee.
There was also some discussion about the business implications of what the Rail Authority does. One of the subcommittee members questioned whether there was any business impact from rail and whether there needed to be any business representative on the Board of Directors, as contemplated in the bill. The DOT representatives, however, did a good job of explaining the massive importance of things like business development around the train stations, reverse commuting, access to Manchester Airport, and the additional productivity that comes from being able to work on a train. DOT noted, and we also reiterated this to the subcommittee, that the Chambers of Commerce are major supporters of the commuter rail proposal.
One of the members of the subcommittee asked Mr. Herlihy how close we are to commuter rail in Nashua. Herlihy said that the best case scenario would be 2023 if the money were in hand now. The fact that DOT is projecting an eight-year timeframe underscores the need to take this bull by the horns and get things moving immediately. This is why we are also urging the Senate Capital Budget Committee to restore the funding, removed from the proposed state budget by the House, for further preliminary work on the Capitol Corridor Project. We will have more on that next week.