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Monday, April 9, 2012

Wheeler to talk rail with Nashua aldermen Tuesday

NASHUA – Executive Councilor David Wheeler, R-Milford, will be in Nashua on Tuesday to explain why he voted down a $3.2 million grant for a state rail study that garnered unanimous approval from city aldermen.

Taking up an invitation from board President Brian McCarthy, Wheeler is scheduled to meet with the full board at City Hall at 6:45 p.m., prior to their scheduled meeting at 7:30, to talk rail and to share his plans for bolstering the economy in Greater Nashua and the state.

Wheeler represents District 5, which includes Nashua.

“I asked him to talk about what his vision is for economic development. It doesn’t seem to involve rail, and we think that’s essential, so there must be some disconnect there as far what our vision is,” McCarthy said Friday.

Nashua officials have expressed disappointment with the Executive Council’s 3-2 vote against a federal and state grant that would have explored the feasibility and financing of linking a commuter line from Boston to Concord, bringing it through the Gate City to do so.

Gov. John Lynch, Mayor Donnalee Lozeau and the Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce had also voiced strong support for the project.

Along with Wheeler, Councilors Dan St. Hilaire, R-Concord, and Chris Sununu, R-Newfields, opposed the study, while Ray Burton, R-Bath, and Ray Wieczorek, R-Manchester, supported it.

The meeting will give Wheeler a chance to explain that vote, McCarthy said, and allow aldermen to get his take on bringing the commuter rail line at least to Nashua.

“We’d like to understand his position on bringing rail to Nashua,” McCarthy said.

Wheeler has said he rejected the study as it would have required foregoing $400,000 of federal highway projects to come up with a match from the state, and that it was less of an infrastructure priority than widening Interstate 93 from Salem through Manchester.

“The cost would be even cheaper to just update the environmental study done for the line only to Nashua,” Wheeler said in March.

The city is still looking at ways to bring rail to Nashua, according to Lozeau, and she has spoken with Wheeler to see if the city could accomplish a scaled-down version of the funds the Executive Council rejected.

At the board’s meeting March 27, Lozeau said the city was talking with the Federal Transit Administration, the Federal Railroad Administration, the governor’s office and other members of the Executive Council about ways the city could use the rejected funds.

“There are still some things in the mix,” Lozeau said. “Nobody has blatantly said, no, we don’t want to look at that money from the study that the Executive Council did not support.”

One of the possibilities for local rail includes a multi-modal transit center at Exit 36 South, to potentially be located over the New Hampshire border in Tyngsborough, Mass.

“The question becomes … New Hampshire money and Massachusetts money being used together, which is something we’re going to have to look at trying to work through because it’s unusual to work that way,” Lozeau said.

Tyngsborough selectmen are in the process of pursuing a planning grant for the project, Lozeau said, as Nashua looks at park and ride funds that were set aside from the Department of Transportation for the city to purchase station locations.

Lozeau said aldermen may soon see a municipal management agreement to use those dollars to purchase a downtown location in pursuit of the effort.

Maryalice Gill can be reached at 594-6490 or mgill@nashuatelegraph.com. Follow Gill on Twitter (@Telegraph_MAG).