CLAREMONT — At a state-run hearing on transportation yesterday, Claremont residents summarized the city’s funding wish list to three items: a highway bypass, support for rail and public transportation.
The Governor’s Advisory Commission on Intermodal Transportation (GACIT) held a public hearing at Claremont City Hall to hear community recommendations for projects to consider in future state transportation budgets. GACIT was created in the late 1980s as an advisory group for the governor, to communicate with local communities to identify priorities relating to roads, bridges and other modes of transportation.
The commission is currently holding 20 community hearings across New Hampshire to consider last recommendations to its proposed 10-year transportation plan, which will cover projects in 2021 through 2030. Commission members holding the Claremont forum were Executive Councilor Michael Cryans; GACIT Commissioner Victoria Sheehan; Peter Stamnas, project director with the Department of Transportation; and Steven Schneider, executive director of the Upper Valley Lake Sunapee Regional Planning Commission.
The state Department of Transportation’s proposed 2021-2030 plan includes five projects involving Claremont with a total estimated cost of $22 million: bridge preservation over the Connecticut River between Claremont and Weathersfield, Vermont ($3.2 million), bridge rehabilitation on Route 12A over the Sugar River ($7.6 million), intersection relocation at Route 12 and North Street ($4.6 million), Claremont Airport improvements ($6.3 million), and a traffic signal project on Washington Street ($668,000).
Roads, rails and rides
“I believe we are the only city in the state without a bypass,” Claremont Public Works Director Victor St. Pierre told the commission. “So we spend a lot of money on state highways toward maintaining and repaving them. The major highways go right through the center of town. We really need this looked at in a 10-year plan so we don’t spend so much of our taxpayers’ money on state highways.”
While the state contributes some funding to Claremont to maintain these roads, St. Pierre said that the amount is insufficient to cover four state roads.
“Washington Street cost over $1 million to repave and gets 22,000 cars per day,” St. Pierre said. “But it’s only funded with municipal tax money.”
Mayor Charlene Lovett said that Claremont needs a bypass to reroute trucks from travelling through its downtown center.
“It’s a detractor for all our effort to revitalize the downtown area,” Lovett said. “We cannot realize our goals if the truck traffic continues to go through the downtown area.”
In addition to heavy wear-and-tear on the road, Lovett said that the vibrations created by these trucks put stress on the historic buildings, and the traffic is an impediment to downtown businesses and residents.
Several residents raised the need for New Hampshire to support rail in Claremont, which has the only Amtrak station in the state.
Lovett explained Claremont’s heavy investment in rail transport, which has seen a considerable increase in ridership over the past several years and looks to be the only departure point in New Hampshire by passenger train into Montreal, Canada.
Claremont recently introduced station hosts at the Claremont depot, in which volunteers greet and assist Amtrak riders arriving to and departing from Claremont station, a program whose success has attracted the attention of Amtrak executives in Washington, D.C.
“The station-host program was a lifesaver for me,” said Claremont resident Cornelia Sargent. ”My husband and I choose to not own cell phones, and he came to pick me up when the train was running six hours late. He would have had no idea what was going on if not for the greeters.”
N.H. Rep. Walt Stapleton (District 5, Ward III) told the commission that state legislation could be created to allow Claremont’s rail system to use federal toll credits, just as the state is currently using toll credits to fund a new project study to explore expanding passenger rail in Manchester and Concord.
In addition to her support for rail funding, Sargent spoke to the need for more public transportation in Claremont. Currently Southwestern Community Services provides bus shuttle transport within Claremont and limited transportation between neighboring towns, but there remains a high need in Sullivan County for transportation alternatives to driving, as many residents are either unable to drive or lack vehicles.
“I’m thrilled that I was able to get here by public transportation, so I didn’t have to walk the four and a half miles into town,” Sargent said. “But I will be walking home, to the Ascutney Bridge basically, because there isn’t public transportation afterward.”
Cryans told attendees that the commission intends to finalize its 10-year plan to submit to the governor by Dec. 1. The legislature will consider the plan for adoption in June 2020.