Is commuter rail service a good idea for New Hampshire?
By: LFDA Editor
In November 2014 the New Hampshire Rail Transit Authority (NHRTA) released the results of a feasibility study for southern New Hampshire commuter rail.
The study examined three rail options: a line connecting Nashua to Massachusetts, a line extending to Manchester, and a line extending all the way to Concord.
Rail to Nashua
The "Nashua Minimum" option would be primarily funded by federal and Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) contributions, leaving $4 million in additional costs each year. The rail line between Massachusetts and Nashua would bring an estimated 1,200 new jobs and 600 new housing units to New Hampshire by 2030, according to the study.
Rail to Manchester
The "Manchester Regional" option would also be funded in large part by federal and MBTA contributions, leaving $7 million in additional costs each year. The route would have four stops in New Hampshire. The study estimated the rail between Massachusetts and Manchester would bring 5,600 new permanent jobs and 3,600 housing units to the state by 2030.
Rail to Concord
Lastly, the "Concord Intercity" option would get federal funds, but no MBTA contributions. It would cost the state an additional $15 million each year. The route would also have just four stops in New Hampshire. The connection between Massachusetts and Concord would bring an estimated 3,700 jobs and 2,200 new housing units to New Hampshire by 2030.
The additional $4, $7, or $15 million each year could be funded through parking fees, vehicle registration fees, municipal contributions, lottery revenues, the state Energy Efficiency Fund, or some other state government source.
The state legislature must now decide whether to provide additional funding for the NHRTA to pursue one of these commuter rail options.
Arguments in favor of funding commuter rail
According to the NHRTA study, a southern New Hampshire commuter rail will increase residential development, because an easier commute attracts new residents. Those new residents and riders will in turn attract commercial development and new jobs.
According to the state’s Department of Transportation (DOT), other benefits include increased tourism, reduced traffic congestion on Routes 3 and 93 and therefore less cost to maintain those roads, more transportation choices for residents, and decreased pollution.
“There is simply no economic development opportunity on the horizon that could transform New Hampshire’s economy like the expansion of passenger rail could offer,” said Thomas Mahon, chair of the New Hampshire Rail Transit Authority. “We firmly believe that the options are clear: invest in passenger rail or choose the status quo and face the negative consequences associated with our young people fleeing the state while our existing population ages and in-migration continues to decline”
A February 2011 UNH/Granite State poll reported 53% of New Hampshire residents strongly favor extending commuter rail service.
Arguments against funding commuter rail
Commuter rail opponents challenge rosy economic projections. Josh Elliott-Traficante, policy analyst for the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, has said rail stations do not prompt new businesses to open, they only change where businesses choose to locate.
Opponents also point to financial problems faced by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority and National Railroad Passenger Corporation.
“It’s not an energy-efficient way to move people; not a good use of money; and it would create a state bureaucracy that requires more taxation to sustain,” former House Speaker Bill O’Brien (R-Mont Vernon) told the Union Leader.
Lastly, some opponents are concerned about pollution from commuter rail. A 2010 study by the Bookings Institution found that transit investment only changes the metropolitan landscape if there are other incentives to decrease car use.