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February 05. 2013 8:59PM

Capitol Corridor rail study likely to be OK'd by Executive Council

CONCORD - The Executive Council is expected to vote today to begin a $3.66 million study of the viability of commuter rail along the Merrimack River corridor from the Massachusetts border to Concord.

Last year, the council voted 3-2 to turn down federal money that would have been used to pay for the study.

Several councilors came under fire for their opposition to the study, including District 5 Councilor David Wheeler, R-Milford, who was defeated by Debora Pignatelli, D-Nashua, in November. Pignatelli made Wheeler's opposition to the rail project one of the key issues in the race.

The new council likely has four votes in favor of the study, which will look at alternative transit options in what is called the Capitol Corridor.

New councilors Colin Van Ostern, D-Concord, Chris Pappas, D-Manchester, and Pignatelli support the study. Last year, Councilor Raymond Burton, R-Bath, supported the project while Councilor Chris Sununu, R-Newfields, opposed accepting the money.

"The Capitol Corridor rail project is back on track," said Van Ostern last week. "The potential from this project is huge: attracting new workers for growing New Hampshire businesses; speeding tourists, shoppers, and business visitors to our state; lessening traffic on I-93 and Route 3; easing commutes; and amplifying the growth of new Granite State bus routes and the Manchester-Boston Regional airport."

While Nashua and some organizations explored avenues to continue with the study, the efforts never really got off the ground until last month when the Capital Budget Overview Committee approved the analysis of alternative transportation methods for the corridor.

Committee members voted to go forward, noting the study should provide both supporters and opponents of the Capitol Corridor project with information to make their cases.

Federal funds will pay for 89 percent of the study costs, while the state picks up the remainder of the cost through toll credits from the New Hampshire Turnpike System.

The federal government credits the state with toll money that has been spent on the system for such things as maintenance and plowing.

The council meets today at 10 a.m. in Executive Council Chambers in the State House.

grayno@unionleader.com


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