Nashua may form its own rail transit committeeBy KIMBERLY HOUGHTON
Union Leader Correspondent
September 06. 2017 11:32PM
NASHUA — Officials are considering two proposals that would form a Nashua Rail Transit Committee and spend $100,000 on a strategic plan to determine the feasibility of bringing commuter rail into the Gate City.
But at least one alderman is questioning whether the rail study is really necessary.
“What do we hope to learn that we don’t already know?” asked Alderman David Schoneman, Ward 3. “What more are we going to learn?”
Tim Cummings, director of economic development, said this week the $100,000 being recommended for the rail strategic plan would serve as seed money to help the newly proposed rail transit committee with its work.
While a study has already been done at the state level, researching the viability of bringing commuter rail from Lowell, Mass., north to Concord, Cummings said the new strategic plan would focus solely on bringing rail from Lowell, Mass., to Nashua.
“We have been stymied at the state level,” Mayor Jim Donchess told the aldermanic Budget Review Committee on Tuesday, adding the alternative of bringing rail just into Nashua should be evaluated.
He is proposing that $100,000 in surplus from the prior budget be earmarked in the new 2018 budget for the recommended rail strategic plan.
The proposed strategic rail plan would provide critical answers to Nashua officials, according to Cummings, including a proposed price-tag, whether Massachusetts would fund any of the project, and specific operation and maintenance costs.
“We don’t have any of those answers yet,” said Cummings. The proposed committee and strategic plan would start new conversations to help officials understand the market and what funding sources may be available at the federal level, he said.
Even if the $100,000 escrow request is approved, Donchess stressed that aldermen would still have a final say in how the funds are spent.
Alderman Ken Siegel, Ward 9, questioned whether the proposed committee could reach out to representatives from the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) to find out some of those answers on its own — at no cost.
Cummings said that is possible, but recommended that an expert or consultant be used to maneuver the technicalities of the conversation. Cummings said he is unaware of any previous discussions between city officials and MBTA.
Both proposals for the rail transit committee formation and the escrow request for a rail strategic plan will be voted on by the Board of Aldermen on Tuesday.
According to the proposed resolution, the committee would consist of nine members — two aldermen, one member from the Nashua Regional Planning Commission, one member from the Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce, two city residents, the city’s two existing representatives on the New Hampshire Rail Transit Authority and either the mayor or his designee.
“The committee is charged with making recommendations and development of a strategy to the mayor and the Board of Aldermen for bringing passenger rail to Nashua,” states the resolution, which indicates that Gov. Chris Sununu recently made public comments encouraging the exploration of an incremental first approach with rail into Nashua.