State Sen. Jim Rausch, R-Derry, is confident that the widening of Interstate 93 from Windham to Manchester, and the accompanying proposed Exit 4-A, will be built in spite of a possible shortage in federal funding.
Rausch was the main architect of the 4.2 cent-per-gallon gas tax increase, which was signed into law by Gov. Maggie Hassan in May and went into effect earlier this month. The increase, the first in New Hampshire since 1991, is intended to pay for the widening of I-93 and the building of Exit 4-A, both of which are in the current 10-year Highway Improvement Plan but, until the gas tax increase, were unfunded.
The gas tax increase is expected to pay for $200 million of the $250 million project, with funding from the Federal Highway Trust Fund for the remaining $50 million.
But the Highway Trust Fund is nearly depleted and federal funding for I-93 could be cut if Congress does not vote to replenish the fund.
Rausch, who is retiring this year, said, “Our representatives in Congress must work diligently to make sure that we don’t lose that.”
But with 80 percent of the project money state-generated, he is confident the work will go forward. He also said New Hampshire has millions of dollars in “toll credits” from its work on the turnpike system, and he expected that money to be brought into the equation.
“That is more than sufficient to finish the work on I-93,” Rausch said. “I-93 will continue.”
But he recognized that, “The loss of any money from the federal government affects us.”
“There is a concern about the impact of a reduction to the Federal Highway Trust Fund,” Bill Boynton, spokesman for the New Hampshire Department of Transportation (DOT), said. “The potential insolvency of the fund is a 50-state concern.”
Boynton added, “We at DOT are taking steps to make sure the projects we have ongoing now will continue to go forward.”
But Boynton said the DOT is moving slowly on other potential projects, and has delayed advertising for contractors for another $25 million worth of construction. “In some cases, we’re delaying it by weeks, in some by months,” he said.
Boynton added that in the matter of the I-93 widening, he does not currently see a funding shortage. “The money from Sen. Rausch’s bill should pay for the widening from Windham to Manchester,” he explained.
But a portion of the project will still be funded by federal money, Boynton said, and “if the money is not there, it will be a problem.”
The road toll credits are part of the overall process, Boynton said.
For now, his department will continue the projects currently underway, including the widening of I-93 at Exit 3 in Windham. As for the future widening, he said, “Is I-93 immune to cuts? No.”
Project Manager Pete Stamnas of the Highway Design Bureau said if the federal money didn’t come through, it would require some adjustment in the plans. “The $50 million,” he said, would be the equivalent of one of the projects needed to finish the northern section of the road widening.
Stamnas said the project is divided into four components:
• 1. The stretch from the way station in Windham to Kendall Pond Road in Derry, to be advertised in 2015 and with construction expected to begin in 2016;
• 2. The Exit 4 interchange and the stretch from Kendall Pond Road to Ash Street, to be advertised in late 2015 and constructed in 2016. This phase of the project also includes replacement of the bridge on Route 102, the Ash Street bridge and the Beaver Brook bridge;
• 3. Ash Street to the south end of the Exit 5 ramp in Londonderry, advertised in 2016, with construction beginning in 2017; and
• 4. North of Exit 5 to the I-293 “split” in Manchester, advertised in 2016, with construction beginning in 2017.
Stamnas said with all funding available, the widening would be completed by 2020.