On Tuesday, the Senate Transportation Committee conducted its public hearing on HB 2016, the legislation establishing the State's 10-year Transportation Infrastructure Plan. The hearing lasted for several hours and, despite the fact that HB 2016 includes a number of different items, the piece that attracted the most attention (and took up the bulk of the hearing) was the issue of rail.
As you may recall, the original bill included $4 million for the continuation of work on the Capital Corridor Project, designed to ultimately bring commuter rail from MA up through Nashua and to the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport. After successfully making it through the Committee process with that funding intact, a floor amendment stripped the funding out before the bill made its way over to the Senate.
The Chamber strongly opposed the removal of the funding and, given the turnout on Tuesday, our position is echoed across the state as the hearing room in the State House was well-filled with supporters in favor of restoring the $4 million in funding to HB 2016. Kudos to Senator Bette Lasky for her strong testimony in favor of restoring the funding, and for presenting the Committee with a draft amendment to do just that for their consideration. Senator Kevin Avard is also on the record in support of restoring the funds.
Tracy Hatch and Nashua Mayor Jim Donchess both testified in favor of restoring the funding. Mayor Donchess stressed that including the funding does not cost the state even "one penny from the general fund" and that the benefits to the entire state's economy are well understood in the business community. In her testimony, Tracy spoke to the misperception that this is "just another study and we've studied it to death." The December 2014 Capital Corridor Study validated the concept of bringing rail to New Hampshire; this next phase gathers the details of implementation. Specifically, the $4 million will be used to determine the track layout and the corresponding environmental assessment, to prepare detailed capital and operating financial plans, and to allow preliminary work to go forward to identify sources of funding for both capital and operating needs, through grants as well as possible private funding.
Among the various other people who testified in support of the rail provision were a young Nashua High School student who wowed the Committee and the audience with the data that she had gathered in her study of the rail issue; Ted Combes, the former chair of the Londonderry Town Budget Committee, who talked about how important rail would be for Londonderry (a good thing to remember- this is about the region, not just Nashua); and Attorney Bill Barry of Nashua, who reminded the Committee that this rail issue now represents far more than just the $4 million in funding that is at stake. If the legislature does not restore this money, it will not only put the brakes on the Capital Corridor Project, but it will send millennials and entrepreneurs the loud and clear message that New Hampshire really does not want to court them.
The Committee vote on this one probably will happen next week.