Oct 11, 2015 10:01 AM
Seacost bus service providers worried about proposed funding change
PORTSMOUTH - The COAST bus, Wildcat Transit and other public transportation agencies are worried there will be less federal money for their operations if a proposal from the state Department of Transportation is accepted.
According to seacoastonline.com, state transportation officials want greater flexibility in using federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality program dollars starting in 2017.
Seacoast and other state bus services rely on roughly $10 million per year made available through CMAQ, but the new flexibility would make highway and bridge projects also eligible for 50 percent of those funds.
DOT Planning and Community Assistance Administrator Bill Watson said the flexibility would give the state more discretion in allocating federal dollars to the state’s highest priority transportation projects, not just ones that improve congestion or air quality.
But COAST Executive Director Rad Nichols said the recommendation puts his company at a huge disadvantage, as the state puts higher priority on projects that fix roads and bridges. COAST provides service to the Seacoast and its most popular routes include one that goes through Portsmouth, Dover, Rochester and Somersworth, and a route that takes riders to Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.
If half of the CMAQ funds become available to highway projects, he said the company will have to raise its fare rate and purchase used vehicles to address its fleet’s needs.
Steve Pesci, UNH Campus Planning’s director of special projects, said Wildcat Transit has similar concerns, and he and Nichols have been talking to state officials, including Executive Councilor Chris Sununu, who says he will oppose the change.
“We cannot risk anything when it comes to reducing those funds,” he said. “It’s not a want; it’s a need of our communities.”