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NH Senate president warns of infrastructure crisis

Union Leader Correspondent

December 09. 2011 11:20PM
Pictured are state Senate President Peter Bragdon and Peter Rayno, vice president of the Rotary Club of Greater Salem. (JULIE HANSON)

SALEM - New Hampshire Senate President Peter Bragdon believes that building America's future starts with a strategic national plan to rebuild its infrastructure.

'The problems at the national level are really affecting what's going on in the state with regards to infrastructure,' Bragdon said.

Bragdon spoke at a Rotary Club of Greater Salem meeting at Rockingham Park. In addition to serving as New Hampshire Senate president, Bragdon is the co-chair of Building America's Future, a bipartisan group promoting focus and investment in the nation's infrastructure.

New Hampshire's infrastructure, like many across the country, is in need of a makeover that will improve safety, quality of life, and the state's ability to remain competitive in attracting new businesses and jobs, Bragdon said. Over $38 billion in goods made in New Hampshire are transported annually over the highway system, Bragdon said. He expects that number to increase by 30 percent over the next decade.

'If we need to get people back to work we need to create an environment where business can succeed,' Bragdon said.

New Hampshire receives about $1 billion in federal infrastructure funding, Bragdon said. Federal money is spread thin and distributed using old formulas, he said. Almost one in three dollars earmarked for highway projects since 1991 remain unspent because the projects never moved forward, he said, illustrating the need for a 'use it or lose it' policy for federally funded projects.

The nation lacks an infrastructure strategy, Bragdon said.

'We're following the same policy goals and guidelines now that were set up 60 years ago,' Bragdon said.

Building America's Future believes the answer lies in demanding reform and accountability in the system, focusing infrastructure investments on economic returns, and creating a national plan with local flexibility, Bragdon said.

Reform begins with an audit of the U.S. Department of Transportation, an end to earmarks, and a set of performance measurements, Bragdon said. The last major transportation bill contained 6,000 earmarks costing about $24 billion, he said. He would like to see a consolidation of government programs and agencies and changes to speed the approval and design process for infrastructure projects.

The focus should then shift to investing in infrastructure projects based on economic returns and encouraging public-private partnerships when possible.

Creating a 10-year plan is a key element for managing the country's infrastructure projects, Bragdon said.

'Having a strategic plan forces you to make wise decisions,' Bragdon said.

He believes people will be willing to invest in the country's infrastructure if they know a thought-out strategy is being implemented.

'I think people are willing to pay tax dollars if they feel those monies are being spent wisely on things that make sense,' Bragdon said.

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