Recently, nearly a full-page of this paper was dedicated to an admonishment of the strong public support for the expansion of passenger rail from Boston to Nashua and Manchester. This rebuke was prompted by a poll from the Saint Anselm College Survey Center, which illustrated that more than three-quarters of New Hampshire residents support passenger rail expansion. As a long-time businessperson and elected official, I cannot tell you the number of people I encounter — Democrats, Independents and yes, even Republicans — who all support rail expansion.I firmly believe that creating a stronger connection between New Hampshire and Massachusetts would help our economy. The proof is in the data provided from the 2015 New Hampshire Capitol Corridor Study, which estimated that weekday ridership of nearly 670,000 would generate the need for 1.9 million square feet of commercial real estate for businesses created along the corridor. Those businesses need workers — 5,600 permanent jobs to be exact — and an estimated 3,600 residential units to house those workers. About 3,400 construction jobs would be generated to build the $750 million investment in real estate development that’s projected. After 2030, it’s estimated that 1,700 new jobs would be created each year. Those workers would reinvest $220 million of earnings to the economy beyond 2020.
As a businessperson and former Dean of the Peter T. Paul College of Business at Economics at the University of New Hampshire, I recognize that investments are required to grow your company or your campus community. I know from experience, having invested heavily in staffing, aesthetics and experience at the Ale House Inn, the Hotel Portsmouth, and the Great Island Inn.
You need not look further than the Amtrak station on the UNH-Durham campus to see the response to rail access. Students, faculty staff and the surrounding community all utilize this service on a daily basis. For UNH, it is an important tool for admissions recruitment. For neighboring communities including Exeter, which also has a stop, it is a critical resource for work and recreation and has resulted in economic benefits to the community.
Before investing any funds, performing due diligence is critical. In this case, in order for New Hampshire to reap these rewards derived from rail expansion, an annual investment of approximately $7 million would be necessary.
Let’s be frank: All modes of transportation are subsidized one way or another. Examples from our backyard include millions of dollars are being invested in the airport at Pease to try to attract carriers, state investment in commuter bus terminals and busses, as well as highway construction. Rail in New Hampshire has historically received little support. It is time to reconsider investing in passenger rail in our state.
Approved by the Senate and the House, SB241 would access “toll credits” to leverage federal dollars to fund an in-depth analysis of the project. The state has a massive bank of “toll credits” earned from its work on federal highway projects. With more than 100 million credits available at any time, SB241 would utilize a tiny portion to provide a detailed plan for how best to build and finance the rail line. From start-to-finish, the analysis is projected to take two years and provide a blueprint, enabling the legislature to make a determination if it makes sense to move forward.
As a former state senator, I am hard-pressed to identify a single project in state history that yielded such significant results. But as a fiscal conservative, I’m comforted that elected officials will have the opportunity to evaluate a comprehensive analysis, without expending General Fund dollars, before making a decision.
I’m proud that rail is becoming a bipartisan issue. This is evident in recent legislative votes, support from Governor Sununu and through the list of more than 100 businesses who have committed their support to rail expansion. Take a look at that list. It’s comprised of banks to barre studios, representing businesses from every corner of the state. Rail’s bipartisan support is also clear through the Saint Anselm College survey. When you dig into the numbers, you see that people of all ages and political leanings in every county support rail expansion. This should serve as a wake-up call to my Republican colleagues who dismiss the project or refuse to support it because they reside outside the capitol corridor.
New Hampshire residents clearly want the state to explore rail expansion further. I think it’s time we listen to their voices and support this common-sense legislation.
Daniel E. Innis, Ph.D., of Lee, is a professor of marketing and hospitality management at the University of New Hampshire and a former New Hampshire State Senator.