CONCORD - Southern New Hampshire residents will soon be able to travel from Portsmouth to Manchester by bus, a long-sought avenue for public transportation.
The Executive Council on Wednesday approved a $2.4 million contract with Flight Line Inc. to subsidize the service for three years.
The money will provide operating and marketing funds to the Salem-based company that operates van and limousine service to Logan Airport and the Boston area and to Manchester Boston Regional Airport in southern New Hampshire.
Federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) funds will pay for the Flight Line contract.
The state Department of Transportation sought proposals for the service in 2010 and received approval for using the CMAQ money in February 2011.
Under the contract, Flight Line buses will stop at the Portsmouth Transportation Center, Epping Park and Ride lot, Manchester Boston Regional Airport and the downtown Manchester bus station on Canal Street.
The contract calls for at least 10 round-trips daily, but Flight Line President Jamie Dowd has said his company will offer 20 round-trips daily.
The first bus will arrive at Manchester airport by 5 a.m. and the last bus leaving the airport will be at midnight.
Three companies bid on the proposed route, Flight Line, Falcon Bus Lines and New England Coach, with Flight Line receiving the nod from a review committee.
At the council meeting, District 3 Executive Councilor Raymond Wiezcorek, R-Manchester, said "Hopefully (bus service) will give some assistance to Manchester airport. The current bus service bypasses the airport so I'll be watching this with great interest."
In 2009, Dowd sued the state and Jim Jalbert, co-owner of Boston Express Bus Inc., saying the bidding process had been manipulated for the contract to carry passengers between Manchester and Boston as part of the Interstate 93 widening project from Salem to Manchester.
In the suit, Dowd said the subsidized contract gives Boston Express an unfair competitive advantage over his business. He also said the original request for proposals was changed so only Boston Express could qualify after a contract had already been awarded to another company.
Dowd did not bid on the Manchester-to-Boston contract. The suit is pending.
- - - - - - - -Garry Rayno may be reached at email@example.com.