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March 07. 2013 12:50AM

Financing for a new Nashua highway exit near Mass. border could be tricky

NASHUA - Innovative funding may be necessary in order for a newly proposed exit at the border of New Hampshire and Massachusetts to become a reality, regional planners said.

The concept of building a southbound off-ramp at Exit 36 - possibly in Tyngsborough, Mass. - has been discussed for several years in the city. Previously, nearly $200,000 in grant money was awarded to the Nashua Regional Planning Commission to conduct a study on its feasibility.

"I think the biggest issue is how to pay for a project that the majority of material falls in Massachusetts and the majority of the benefit falls in New Hampshire," said Tim Roache, assistant director of the NRPC. "We need innovative financing."

Speaking to the aldermanic Planning and Economic Development Committee this week, Roache updated city officials on the Exit 36 study, which was approved by the New Hampshire Department of Transportation last summer.

"The study, I think, will show benefit - great benefit," said Roache.

While the cost of building a new ramp on the F.E. Everett Turnpike has not yet been determined, original estimates in 2002 were close to about $5 million.

Still, Roache said this is an ideal time to investigate the possibility, especially since a new rail study is about to begin.

"You could tie the two together, sure," Roache said.

On several occasions, Mayor Donnalee Lozeau has said she is interested in building a multimodal transit center off of a newly formed Exit 36 just south of Nashua to support rail transit. As the two studies progress - the rail study and the separate Exit 36 study - Roache said it is important for organizers to take advantage of all opportunities simultaneously.

"We don't want this to happen in separate silos," he said, stressing no official decision has been made on where a south Nashua train station would be located.

Last fall, the data collection phase of the Exit 36 study began, and the last traffic count was completed at the end of October.

The NRPC has now formed a steering committee to begin additional work on the study, which will determine whether the ramp would be financially feasible, and whether it would help alleviate traffic congestion on Spit Brook Road and the Daniel Webster Highway area.

A southbound off-ramp at Exit 36 could provide advantages for New Hampshire and Massachusetts, according to Roache, and has been included in his agency's long-range transportation plan for several years.

A new exit could also help preserve capacity of the road network in Nashua, encourage transit opportunities in southern New Hampshire and promote economic development near Exit 1, Roache said.

The Northern Middlesex Council of Governments, a regional planning agency in Massachusetts, is assisting with the study.

"Exit 36 south has been a dream. I think we are closer to it today than we have ever been," said Alderman-at-Large Barbara Pressly. "Is there anything we can do?"

Roache said it is crucial to express the city's desire to elected officials and delegates.

"It is early, but the more people that voice their interests, the better off it will be," he added.

The NRPC, which has conducted numerous surveys throughout the years, has determined that many residents would like to have additional transportation choices in the region, according to Kerrie Diers, executive director.

Along with more transportation options, she said residents here appreciate the small-town atmosphere of the state's second-largest city, which has access to open green space, jobs, shopping and restaurants.

khoughton@newstote.com


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