MANCHESTER — Some of the biggest names in New Hampshire’s business community on Tuesday threw their support behind a commuter rail link from Boston to the Granite State, the day before a key legislative hearing on the state’s 10-year transportation plan.
A group calling itself New Hampshire Business for Rail Expansion includes more than 50 businesses, organizations and individuals, ranging from some of the state’s largest employers to its major educational institutions and small startups.
The 10-Year Transportation Improvement Plan submitted to the legislature by Gov. Chris Sununu includes $4 million in federal funds for an detailed analysis of a rail extension from the MBTA station in Lowell, Mass., to Nashua, and northward to Manchester and Concord along the Route 3 corridor.
The analysis of the so-called Capital Corridor project would delve into the engineering and financial details of the proposal, setting the stage for a final decision on implementation.
Gov. Chris Sununu, a longtime opponent of the rail project, changed course as the state prepared a bid to lure Amazon to build a new headquarters in New Hampshire. Although the state wasn’t selected, the rail study remains in the transportation plan, which Sununu says is now up to the legislature.
“I continue to have genuine concerns regarding the long-term, financial viability of such an expansive project,” Sununu said recently. “However, the recent process of drafting New Hampshire’s groundbreaking Amazon proposal has demonstrated the need to study the potential options.”
The new pro-rail business group includes entrepreneurs Jeremy Hitchcock and Graham “Gray” Chynoweth, formerly the CEO and COO of Dyn, the internet services company whose rapid growth in the past decade attracted national attention and help spur the development of the Millyard.
“I’ve spoken with countless skilled workers in Boston who want to be a part of the story we’re building here in New Hampshire. But they feel cut-off,” says Hitchcock, now president and CEO of Minim, an internet security company. “Rail would provide those trained Massachusetts workers with that connection to New Hampshire, along with countless others.”
Members of the pro-rail business coalition include Anagnost Companies, Brady Sullivan Properties, Catholic Medical Center, Citizens Bank, Oracle + DYN, Saint Anselm College, Southern New Hampshire University and UNH. The full list of businesses is available at unionleader.com
Gregg Moore, state director with the conservative policy group Americans for Prosperity, says it’s unlikely such a link would attract Boston-area talent to work in New Hampshire, but would funnel New Hampshire workers into Massachusetts.
“Regardless of who has endorsed this idea, it continues to be a terrible idea for New Hampshire taxpayers and it is not the right infrastructure that the state needs right now,” Moore said. “The state does not need another vehicle to send more people to join the 84,000 who currently live in New Hampshire and work in Massachusetts.”
Moore said the money would be better spent on New Hampshire roads and bridges. “That will encourage more job growth and companies to come here instead of enabling them to leave the state to work.”
He points out that much of the support is coming from businesses in the southern section of the state, which stands to benefit the most from a project that would require statewide subsidy.
“If you own a lot of property in Manchester and Nashua, it helps to increase the value there, so it makes business sense,” he said. “Ultimately though the cost to taxpayers not just the initial up-front cost, but the ongoing subsidies to run a passenger rail service.”
The Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce is among the organizations supporting the coalition, which launched the NHBiz4Rail.com website.
“The GMCC represents more than 850 businesses across Southern New Hampshire that employ tens of thousands of our state’s residents and generate millions in economic activity,” said Mike Skelton, CEO of the chamber. “The Nashua-Manchester corridor also serves as the economic backbone of our entire state; as goes the economic output of our region, so goes the rest of New Hampshire. Therefore, economic growth along the Nashua-Manchester corridor is important to the overall growth of our entire state’s economy.”
Chynoweth suggests that without a rail expansion, economic gains made in recent years could stall or even be reversed.
“Rail expansion will allow New Hampshire’s growing business and high-tech community to tap the vast talent pool in the greater Boston area,” he said. “Without rail expansion, those congested highways will continue to serve as proverbial roadblocks, impeding the organic growth of the state’s business community, leading to business stagnation, and ultimately, regression.”
The cost of actually restoring passenger rail in the Nashua to Concord corridor has been estimated at $250 million to$300 million, much of which could come from federal transportation funds.The public hearing on the 10-year Transportation Plan is scheduled for 1 p.m. Wednesday in Room 201 of the Legislative Office Building.