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Jul. 1—The renovation of rail corridors, pedestrian and bike trails, bridges and sidewalk projects — along with a provision that New Hampshire highway exit numbers won't have to change — were contained in a $715 billion infrastructure package that cleared the U.S. House on Thursday.
The prospects for a long-awaited deal on infrastructure improved last week when a bipartisan group of U.S. senators including Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., unveiled the outline of a bill worth $579 billion.
Liberal congressional leaders were pushing President Biden to condition his backing of a compromise on getting a much more expensive budget reconciliation bill with more spending on climate change, health and child care and other domestic priorities.
The House passed the INVEST in America Act by a partisan vote of 221-201, even though it included earmarks from Republican members that helped their districts. The plan would dedicate $343 billion to roads, bridges and safety, $109 billion to transit, and $95 billion to passenger and freight rail.
Other parts of the package plans would commit $117 billion to drinking water infrastructure and over $51 billion to wastewater projects.
U.S. Reps. Annie Kuster and Chris Pappas, both D-N.H., said the House-passed bill included features they had authored.
Kuster wrote the Invest in American Railroads Act part of this bill, which will make it easier for state and local communities to build rail projects such as the Capitol Corridor Project that would restore train service from Boston, Mass. to Concord.
This is done by unlocking nearly $27 billion in low-interest loans for these projects.
"We have the opportunity to bolster our nation's infrastructure, make bold investments in our communities, and take purposeful, strategic steps to ensure future generations have the transportation systems in place to thrive," said Kuster, who serves on the House Energy and Commerce Committee that worked on parts of the bill.
NH exit numbering
Pappas sits on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which took the lead on this legislation. He authored a provision to provide $1 billion in federal grants to connect walking, biking and running paths throughout the country.
The bill will provide the state $1.2 billion in highway grants, a 34% increase, and $121 million in transit financing which is 25% more than current levels, Pappas said.
"I'm pleased that throughout the process of crafting this legislation we've been able to secure big wins for New Hampshire in the form of significant investments to repair our roads and bridges, ensure resiliency in our infrastructure, and invest in clean, safe drinking water," Pappas said.
The bill also would ensure New Hampshire is one of the few states that can still use consecutive exit numbers rather than exit numbers based on the mileage along the highway.
This accommodation will save the state money and help local businesses and owners of attractions that market their locations based on these exit numbers, Pappas said.
In addition, Pappas said he fought to get into the compromise $1 billion to monitor PFAS contaminants in local sewer systems and binding, federal limits on PFAS in drinking water as New Hampshire has adopted.
17 state projects
A five-term member of Congress, Kuster said she got 17 specific state projects into the House bill.
This includes $1 million of upgrades to Claremont intersections to put an end to heavy trucks having to travel through the city's downtown.
"Investing in our infrastructure is a city priority, but we cannot do all that is needed without federal resources," said Claremont Mayor Charlene Lovett.
The Cheshire Rail Trail in the southwestern part of the state will receive a $1.2 million earmark to improve nearly seven miles of pedestrian and bike trails in Swanzey and $668,000 to extend the rail trail in Keene.
"The implementation of these two Cheshire Rail Trail projects is part of a broader regional strategy to improve one of the Monadnock Region's greatest assets — its rail trails — which are becoming increasingly popular among the region's residents and a draw for recreational tourism and economic development," said J.B. Mack, principal planner with the Southwest Regional Planning Commission.
Nashua would get $2.2 million in two projects, a Spruce Street Connector to provide non-motorized access to the city's 325-acre Mine Falls Park and an extension of a bike and pedestrian trail into the city's downtown.
"Getting funding for the Heritage Rail Trail East and the Spruce Street Connector will make it easier for residents and visitors to get around Nashua," Nashua Mayor Jim Donchess said.
A $2.4 million grant will improve the intersection of Route 106 and South Village Road in Loudon, a high-traffic area where fatal accidents have occurred.
It would pay for the first stage of the Merrimack River Greenway Trail, a pedestrian path that would run along the riverfront from Boscawen and through Concord and on to Pembroke.
The bill would also pay for sidewalk and other pedestrian improvements in Waterville Valley, Whitefield, Gorham, Littleton and Plymouth, along with bridge work in Keene and Franklin.