Atop a bridge still under construction along Interstate 93S, Governor Maggie Hassan signed SB367 into law officially raising the NH State gas tax for the first time in 22 years. Before signing the bill into law she spoke with the crowd that was assembled.
“Our bipartisan transportation funding bill is the most significant state-level investment in transportation infrastructure in 23 years,” Governor Hassan said. “This legislation is an important step toward addressing our transportation needs, keeping New Hampshire’s economy moving forward by advancing critical road and bridge projects, finishing the long-overdue expansion of I-93 and improving commutes for our workers and visitors.”
There were approximately 75 onlookers, many of whom were state legislators who had either co-sponsored or supported the bill. The attendees had first gathered at a closed roadside weigh station located between exit 3 and exit 4 on 93S. They then formed a caravan of vehicles and were escorted by state troopers and DOT workers along a narrow gravel roadway to the bridge.
Once all were assembled, DOT Commissioner Chris Clement introduced himself and expressed his appreciation to the many individuals who worked to pass this bill. Over the last year, Clement had tirelessly educated the public about the severity of the state’s infrastructure failings. He frequently shared that without additional funding, the Dept. of Transportation could not even maintain the dwindling number of roads and bridges that were in good condition, let alone improve those that were in poor condition.
“As soon as the Governor signs this bill, we are ready to get working,” the Commissioner said. “We will begin advertising the projects that will be made possible by additional revenue to the State Highway Fund on our website today.”
You can access that page at http://www.nh.gov/dot/road-toll/index.htm.
Jon Hebert, the president of Chapter 3, wasn’t able to be at the signing, but said he and his co-workers are excited with the signing of the bill. DOT workers, Hebert said, have been working hard to make sure Granite Staters see the money is being put to use on road improvements.
“It puts a lot of pressure on us to get these projects out as soon as possible, but that’s what we do and we like the challenge,” he said.
Hebert said that while funding won’t allow the DOT to do all of the road projects it wanted to do, it will allow them to improve roads that haven’t been touched in years.
“I talked to one property owner who said he’d been in his house for 40-something years, and he said he couldn’t remember the last time anyone had done any real work on the road, outside of resurfacing,” Hebert said.
Back at the signing event, Representative David Campbell, chair of the House Public Works and Highway Committee addressed the group on the bridge and said that it was important to remember two things. “Even with this 4.2 cent tax increase, it is still the lowest gas tax in New England. And, every dollar raised goes to maintaining our roads and bridges – 42% of those dollars are going right here where we’re standing to complete the work on Interstate 93.” He added that I93 is the highest travelled road in the state that transports 22 million NH commuters each year and 13 million tourists. “The investment we are making today will pay NH taxpayers millions of dollars in the future.”
Senator Jim Rausch, prime sponsor of the bill, told the crowd that “without this bill, we did not have the resources to complete this project (referring the I93 expansion).” He specifically pointed out two area business owners whose places of business are located at the fringes of the loud and busy construction. “I haven’t heard one complaint or one peep out of them,” he said. “And do you want to know why? They have the wisdom and foresight to see what the future will be bringing.”
Governor Hassan’s remarks were also filled with optimism for the state’s economic future. She specifically thanked the legislators for their bipartisan approach to solving a problem, “unlike in Washington, DC.” She also expressed her appreciation to Commissioner Clement and the state workers who had helped support the legislation, as well as a number of business groups.
This was a day to be celebrated. It is important to remember, however, that even with this new dedicated revenue, the DOT will still be facing a budget deficit. It will be critical to advocate for the remaining shortfall to be addressed through the state budget process next year.