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June 25. 2013 7:00PM

Lack of funding could bring I-93 expansion project to a halt

CONCORD — Construction will stop on the Interstate-93 expansion project in October 2015 unless lawmakers approve new revenue for the highway fund, lawmakers were told Tuesday.

Department of Transportation officials told members of the House Public Works and Highways Committee the number of red-listed bridges and roads in poor condition will grow and up to a third of the agency’s workforce could be laid off without more funding.

Since 2008, lawmakers have come up with a number of schemes to provide additional funding for the department such as selling I-95 to the turnpike fund, limiting diversion of money from the highway fund and adding a $30 surcharge to auto registrations.

The state also accepted hundreds of millions of dollars from the federal stimulus program, which helped keep the highway fund afloat.

Those options are gone and now the department is facing a $50 million yearly deficit at current funding levels, said Patrick McKenna, the department’s CFO.

Department of Transportation Commissioner Christopher Clement told the committee the I-93 expansion project needs $250 million to complete. Without additional money, the project from Exit 3 to Exit 6 in Manchester will not be completed, with the exception of the Exit 5 interchange.

He said his agency will pave about 300 miles of roads this year, but its goal is 500 miles so every roadway would be paved once every 10 years.

Clement said his department is focusing on the main highways to keep them in good condition and less on the secondary roads, which will continue to deteriorate.

He also said the state has 140 red-listed bridges in need of repair and that number will continue to grow without additional revenue.

“The municipal side is what keeps me awake at night,” Clement said, noting the cities and towns have more than 350 red-listed bridges in need of repair and a state aid wait list that stretches to 2023 or 2024.

Committee Chair David Campbell, D-Nashua, was the prime sponsor of House Bill 617, which would have raised the gas tax by 12 cents over three years to 30 cents a gallon.

He asked Clement when his department “is going to hit the wall.”

“We’re already there,” Clement replied.

The gas tax increase was projected to raise $816 million over 10 years, and of that, $183 million would go to municipalities through block grant aid and state bridge and highway aid programs.

The bill passed the House on a 206-158 vote but was killed in the Senate on a vote of 18-6.

Senate Transportation Committee Chair Jim Ruasch, R-Derry, who attended the briefing, said when the bill was killed he was given assurances he will be able to introduce a vehicle to raise revenue for the department next year.

grayno@unionleader.com


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