Funding Cuts Could Delay NH Highway Projects

Sat February 22, 2003 - National Edition

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) _ A possible cut in federal money and other problems could delay highway improvements in the state for several years, state and industry officials say.

In addition, issues surrounding the massive Interstate 93 widening and more study and litigation on other projects could mean delays and fewer road improvements set to begin in 2004, they said.

Gary Abbott, executive vice president of the Associated General Contractors of New Hampshire, estimated the $150 million spent annually on road projects for the past five or so years could dip to $110 million, beginning as early as this fall.

The reason is changes in federal allocations from the 18-cents-a-gallon gasoline tax. New Hampshire now gets back $1.06 for every $1 it sends to Washington from the gasoline tax to pay for road repairs; Abbott said that could change to $1 received for every $1 sent.

”You are looking at a 30 percent reduction in construction projects under that scenario,’ Abbott said.

Carol Murray, commissioner of the state Department of Transportation, said the top priority in the state’s 10-year highway plan the $420 million Interstate 93 widening _ could be facing a slowdown of a year or two. More study is needed on existing bridges, rights of way, wetlands mitigation and costs and planning issues.

If the widening is delayed, officials will move down the list and consider doing less costly projects.

Wednesday, Gov. Craig Benson said road construction in the state should be a major priority, and he will work to retain the state’s gas tax return.

”We have one of the most aged infrastructures in the country right here,’ he said, adding that New Hampshire should get more money than the Midwest and West.

”We do a pretty good job of lobbying to get our federal funds,’ he said.