Thoughts, suggestions, feedback… Please fill out this form
As the debate continues about to what extent, or even whether, the world is experiencing climate change, the number of extreme weather events over the past decade in New Hampshire certainly suggest something is going on. In the 50 years between 1953 and 2002, there were 14 Presidentially-declared storm disasters in New Hampshire. That total has been topped with 15 declared disasters just since 2003. Those have included 1 hurricane, 1 tropical storm, 11 severe storms, 1 fall snow storm and two winter storms. Recently, 50 and 100 year storms have been occurring more often, damaging our transportation infrastructure with flooding and coastal storm surges, disrupting our daily lives, and costing taxpayers millions in repairs costs. Some of the observed changes in New Hampshire’s (and the Northeast’s) climate have included: changing precipitation patterns, increased average temperatures, frequent incidences of extreme weather, and a rise in sea level. From one climate change scenario, New Hampshire’s weather will be more like Maryland and Virginia by 2090. Chris Skoglund says that’s not why he moved here from Washington, DC. Chris is an energy and climate analyst with the NH Department of Environmental Resources. He recently spoke to top NHDOT managers about a six month study getting underway that will “identify NHDOT programs, policies and activities that impact or are impacted by changing weather trends, and identify opportunities to increase the resilience of existing infrastructure and future investments.” Chris will be looking for feedback from transportation experts within the NHDOT. Ann Scholz, an Assistant Research Engineer in our Materials and Research Bureau will assist in the effort. The aggressive schedule for the study calls for a final report September that will develop actions plans for responding to climate change impacts to transportation infrastructure for the short, medium. and long term. Certainly six months is not enough time to come up with all the answers to a complex issue facing the entire planet; however, we must start taking a closer look at how we can possibly reduce the threat of a changing climate in New Hampshire and the potential impact to our transportation system. Ignoring growing evidence would be just sticking our heads in the sand.
It’s hard to believe it’s been almost three years since New England’s first highway speed tolling facility opened at the Hampton Tolls on Interstate 95 (Blue Star Turnpike) in June 2010. Open Road Tolling (ORT), which allows electronic toll paying customers to pass through a plaza without slowing down, has been a huge success at Hampton from day one. Previously legendary long lines of frustrated motorists waiting to pay tolls during hot summer weekends have virtually disappeared. News media in surrounding states have reported on New Hampshire’s ORT with a mixture of admiration, envy, and even frustration as to why it could not happen closer to home. Now New Hampshire is just weeks away from opening its second ORT facility, at the Hooksett Tolls on I-93 (F. E. Everett Turnpike). In the final phase of construction, Hooksett ORT looks very much like its Hampton counterpart. Two lanes, both northbound and southbound, of open road segregated from the more traditional toll lanes by hundreds of yards of concrete barrier. Overhead gantries are being outfitted with the technology that will record E-ZPass transactions at 65 miles per hour. Hooksett is a very busy toll plaza, processing over 25 million transactions a year. On summer weekends, peak traffic volumes routinely top 80,000 vehicles a day. The benefits to Hooksett promised by ORT are many: reducing travel time by almost 15%, saving 270,000 hours annually; reducing fuel consumption by an estimated 465,000 gallons annually with no braking, idling, stopping, or accelerating; improved air quality; and a safer ride when compared to a conventional toll plaza. Nearly 7 out of every 10 (69.2%) of all drivers on New Hampshire’s Turnpike System are E-ZPass customers. They like the ease and convenience of electronic tolling, which is about to get even better!
It’s been almost a year since I sat with my leadership team at the NHDOT and voiced the urgency for an all-out effort to spread the word about the vital need to increase investment in New Hampshire’s transportation system. We all knew that getting roads and bridges on the radar screen of the public was a daunting task. The economy was still in recovery mode. State and local budgets were very tight and getting tighter. There were long lists of competing priorities, from education to public safety to health care. It was easy to be skeptical about the prospects for success. But we really had no choice. It was our obligation to tell the transportation story, to remind everyone of the important role transportation plays in supporting this state’s economy, and to use the facts to explain that the condition of New Hampshire’s roads and bridges is slipping on a downward trend that must be stopped and reversed very soon. Since August of last year, I have been telling the story to virtually anyone who would listen – to Chambers of Commerce meetings, to editorial boards, on statewide radio, to meetings with lawmakers. From the Concord Monitor – “The fact is, New Hampshire and its cities and towns can’t afford not to refurbish or replace failing infrastructure. The economic future of the state and the well-being of its citizens depend on doing so.” From the Nashua Telegraph – “There is no denying that a well- maintained infrastructure is absolutely critical to a sound economy and to our everyday quality of life. No one likes to spend the money to repair or replace an old roof on their home or the hot water heater in the basement. But everyone knows the consequences – financially and otherwise – of failing to do so in a timely manner.” And the list goes on of editorial, elected officials, and public support for doing something sooner, rather than paying a much heavier price later. The debate is well underway in the New Hampshire Legislature about whether and how funding should be increased for transportation. That is ultimately where the final decisions should be made. But we are doing what we have to do. We are making the case for greater investment in transportation. We have the public’s attention. Many have listened and many agree.
Happy Birthday to former Portsmouth Mayor Eileen Foley, who is 95 years young today (2/27/13)! In advance of this milestone, I recently joined Memorial Bridge project manager Keith Cota for a walk along Bow Street in Portsmouth, not far from where the new bridge is being built across the Piscataqua River. This was no casual stroll. Armed with a fruit basket, some chocolates, and an invitation, we were on a mission. We were met by Eileen Foley’s daughter Mary Carey Foley, who escorted us upstairs where mom was seated in front of a television, getting the latest spring training update from Florida while keeping warm with a Red Sox blanket. This was not a surprise visit. They knew we were coming. But the formality needed to be done in person. Joining us for the invitation were Paul Acorn and Ian McFawn, of Archer Western Contractors, the company building the bridge. Keith (pictured) handed Eileen Foley the first official invitation to this summer’s grand opening of the new Memorial Bridge. She accepted enthusiastically and without hesitation. That event will be almost exactly 90 years since the ribbon was cut for the previous Memorial Bridge on August 17, 1923. Eileen Foley remembers that day. She was there. She cut the ribbon. To this day no one in the Foley family, including Eileen, knows why the 5-year old girl in a melon-colored dress was picked out of a crowd of 5,000 to do the honors. Maybe, as her grandson John Foley III suggested during our visit, she was chosen for her “spunk” that is still evident today when you meet her. In her condominium home overlooking the Piscataqua River, there hangs a large framed black and white photo taken on that day. Standing on the now gone bridge is a crowd of adults, but your eyes are drawn to the center of the photo and the small girl all dressed up for a special occasion. Over the next nine decades young Eileen Dondero would live a full life in her home town, eventually serving as Mayor of Portsmouth for 16 years. As much as anyone, Eileen Foley knows how important bridges are in Portsmouth. The replacement of the Memorial Bridge with a new bridge is being followed with intense interest and excitement as a new bridge takes shape on the Portsmouth-Kittery skyline. We all look forward to the celebration and ribbon-cutting for the new Memorial Bridge. Eileen Foley is planning to be there, again. We’re saving a spot for her.
The late Howard Cosell had a simple response to critics of his sports reporting that often portrayed athletes or their sports in a less than flattering way. “Just telling it like it is,” Cosell would say smugly. Laying out bare truths can sometimes be grim. But letting the facts and the numbers speak for themselves can also be very effective. That certainly was the case recently when the national non-profit organization known as TRIP came to Concord to release its latest report on the state of the Granite State’s roads and bridges. The report, “New Hampshire By The Numbers: Meeting the State’s Need for Safe and Efficient Mobility,” certainly has numbers. lots and lots of numbers. It talks about the percentage of roads in “poor” condition (37%), the percentage of bridges that show significant deterioration (31%), and the amount it would take to repair the backlog of all New Hampshire roads and bridges in poor conditions – $1.3 billion. The report correctly states that New Hampshire needs an increased annual investment of $74 million to maintain current road and bridge conditions, complete the widening of I-93 between Salem and Manchester, and adequestly fund maintenance and operations. “New Hampshire faces a significant funding shortfall in the cost to maintain its roads, highways, and bridges,” the report says. “Meeting the state’s need for a well-maintained, safe and reliable network of roads, highway and bridges will enhance New Hampshire’s economy.” Those who would criticize the TRIP report as exaggerating the scale of the problem are ignoring the numbers at their own peril. We can’t afford to not invest in our roads and bridges now. Waiting any longer will only add to the costs, both to the state and to motorists. According to the report, ”Driving on rough roads costs the typical New Hampshire motorist an average of $323 annually in extra vehicle operating costs – a total of $333 million statewide. Costs include accelerated vehicle depreciation, additional repair cost, and increased fuel consumption and tire wear.” Hopefully the many numbers and conclusions in the TRIP report will aid in the effort to prompt positive action by lawmakers. To do nothing is not a responsible option.