Questions Over I-93 Funding Creates Economic Uncertainty

Dec 20, 2011

The state commissioner of transportation warns that if the federal government moves ahead with a plan to cut $40 million of New Hampshire’s yearly highway funds—the completion of I-93 will be placed on hold, indefinitely.  One portion that remains unfinished is exit 3 near Windham.

Many businesses there say the uncertainty of I-93’s future is hurting the local economy.

On a rainy afternoon—Alex Ray-owner of the restaurant chain the Common Man—shows off his Windham establishment. The old renovated barn is about dozen or so feet from the uncompleted new portion of interstate 93.

Seven years ago, the state department of transportation told Ray it needed this land to expand the interstate.  Ray purchased another lot nearby so he could keep the Common Man in town.

But the state then changed its plan and told him he could keep his restaurant in place albeit with major structural changes to accommodate the new highway. So that’s what Ray did.

But for years he has been paying for the plot of land he bought when he thought he had to relocate his restaurant. The state’s change of plans made Ray modify his own.

"So I changed my plan said maybe we’ll build a little inn there or village we went thru a design plan waiting for the state to free up this other 2 acres til build what we wasn’t to build so its kind of ready but we are on hold."

Ray is waiting for the state to sell the other piece of land to him so he can build his dream village—but with delays in the construction of I-93 it’s unclear when that will happen.

 "Its means I’m paying for it without using its called green bananas you can only buy so many green bananas to wait for them to ripen."

The expansion of I-93 near Windham at exit 3 is partially done, but according to the state DOT its completion is uncertain. That’s because Congress has proposed a cut in federal highway funds of 35 percent. This has left the fate of the state’s most ambitious transportation project in limbo.

“the property that were standing in today has 4 or 5 vacant units…

On recent afternoon commercial real estate agent Beverly Donovan is showing one a vacant office spaces she has been trying to rent in Windham.

"That has to do with uncertainty of what’s coming to town a lot of people are waiting to see how it plays out and what businesses come to town. Windham is considered a desirable area but a lot of the small businesses have found that they struggle without the added bigger businesses that we are hoping to get."

Donovan believes that the uncertainty over I-93 is stalling development here.  Laura Scott –agrees. She’s Windham’s director of Community Development.

"When you hear theres gonna be a one year or three year delay you can still plan around that but if youre told theres gonna b a delay and that the end of the sentence that’s the problem. To tell that to a business owner who wants to do expansion who plans on growing their business to just wait on it til whenever they’re going to look at other places. They’re gonna have to."

The real possibility that the federal government will cut a major chunk out of transportation funding has mobilized some state legislators who say the completion of I-93 can no longer wait.

"I-93 is the aorta of the state of New Hampshire if you clog up the aorta everything else loses oxygen and slowly dies that what’s happening with I-93"

That’s State Senator Jim Rausch who represents Windham. He plans to introduce a bill next month that will call for the legislature to look for state funding to finish I-93.

"We will have to come up with a way to fund that and that’s going to be some real soul searching on everyone’s part in concord on what do we do."

Currently there is no mood in this legislature to raise taxes or fees and some lawmakers don’t want to take out anymore bond loans to put the state in more debt. Rausch knows finding the $265 million needed to finish the massive transportation project will be a protracted and difficult battle among his colleagues.

In the meantime, Windham may have to continue living with the uncertainty of when I-93 will get completed and whether the project -which is supposed to bring prosperity to their region-will finally come to a close.