By Patrick Cronin
Hampton Union, Tuesday, September 26, 2006
[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]
[Hampton Union Photo by Jamie Cohen, not in original article]
HAMPTON -- State Rep. Nancy Stiles introduced legislation this week with the intent to initiate plans for a new Route 1A Hampton Harbor bridge.
Under the proposed bill, the state would earmark $8 million toward a new four-lane bridge without a drawbridge with the hope of getting matching funds from the federal government to complete the project.
"We cannot wait 30 years to address the traffic problems that we face today, let alone two decades from now," Stiles said.
Stiles, R-Hampton, said she filed the legislation as a result of the recent meeting in Hampton sponsored by the N.H. Department of Transportation, where the state announced plans to repair the existing bridge formally known as the Neil Underwood Memorial Bridge.
At the meeting, DOT representatives said while they would like to construct a new bridge that could handle the traffic, they don't have the $30 million needed to do the job.
Instead, they presented two options to the town to rehabilitate the existing bridge.
"I think it's excellent that Nancy Stiles is being proactive in the matter of the bridge," said Fred Rice, Hampton Beach Commission chairman. "She is taking action where others have just sat and watched."
The Hampton Beach Commission has pushed for a new bridge because its members say the current two-lane bridge with a lift is a traffic nightmare, especially during the summer.
"Some days in July and August, we have up to 20,000 cars a day use that bridge," Stiles said. "When the span is up to allow boats to pass traffic backs up for miles. We must have a new bridge that allows for free traffic flow for both boats and automobiles."
Stiles said she has already contacted the offices of U.S. Sens. Judd Gregg and John Sununu, as well as Congressman Jeb Bradley, to investigate the availability of matching federal funds.
"This is a safety issue, that may be of interest to Homeland Security officials as well," Stiles said, especially with the Seabrook Station nuclear power plant nearby.
Stiles also scheduled a meeting with the state DOT Commissioner Carol Murray to discuss the issue, as well as the agreement the DOT signed with state Historical Commission that promises the state will maintain the existing bridge. The Historical Commission wants to save the existing bridge because it's one of only two bridges in the state that has a lift span.
Stiles said it's going to take a team effort to convince representatives throughout the state to support the legislation.
"Not only is a new bridge needed to serve the local population and the tourists, it is essential for the ongoing security of the region," said state Sen. Martha Fuller Clark, D-Portsmouth.
Meanwhile, state Rep. Ben Moore, R-Seabrook, has also filed legislation concerning the bridge. But instead of using state money, the bill calls for the state to secure a bond for a new bridge, with payments to be paid by the installation of a tollbooth there.
"When the bridge was first built, a bond was issued to pay for it by guaranteeing it would be paid for by tollbooths," Moore said. "Once the bond was paid, the tollbooths were gone. Why not do it again?"