Stopping the Runaway Railroad

Legislature looks to stop Campbell’s runaway railroad

(CONCORD) House transportation planners are looking to put the brakes on Commissioner George Campbell’s quest to bring commuter rail to New Hampshire. The House Public Works and Highways Committee unanimously recommended an amendment to the Ten Year Transportation Improvement Plan, HB 2010, which would require legislative approval before any state or federal money could be spent on passenger rail service.

In January of last year, Commissioner Campbell circulated a “Wish List” of transportation projects he would like to have seen funded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, known as the Stimulus. This included $300 million to double the existing track from Manchester to Lowell, purchase equipment, and pay for the first three years of operating expenses of the passenger rail service. New Hampshire did not receive any stimulus money for commuter rail. Campbell’s proposed draft of the latest Ten Year Plan assumed that New Hampshire would win $249 million in federal money for the project.

The Committee recommendations for the Ten Year Plan include $3.6 billion in highway, bridge, and rail projects over the next ten years, including nearly $2 billion for highway projects, $260 million for airports, $464 million for the Turnpike System, and $225 million for rail projects.

However, the Public Works Committee amendment to the Ten Year Plan would prevent Campbell from spending any of that money without explicit legislative approval.

Legislative Appropriation of Passenger Railroad Expenditures. Prior to the expenditure of any state or federal moneys by the state of New Hampshire, or its representatives, on the construction or reconstruction of any passenger railroad infrastructure, or the operation of passenger railroad service, the department of transportation and the New Hampshire rail transit authority shall first receive approval from the general court for both the capital and operating budgets related to passenger rail service. Said legislation should, pursuant to house and senate rules, be sent to the public works and highways and finance committees in the house of representatives and the transportation and interstate cooperation and finance committees in the senate, prior to its being acted on by the respective legislative bodies. This section shall not apply to federal money received or expended for planning purposes or studies related to passenger rail service.

Neither Governor John Lynch’s December submission to the Legislature nor the Public Works Committee plan anticipate federal funding for passenger rail service in New Hampshire. With the Committee Amendment, should the Granite State receive a federal grant to build the commuter rail project, Campbell would need legislative approval to spend it. Currently, department heads can seek approval from the Executive Council or the Legislative Fiscal Committee to accept and expend federal dollars outside of the normal budget process.