Shaheen touts Hampton infrastructure bill


HAMPTON – The Neil R. Underwood Bridge connecting Hampton to Seabrook Beach carries 18,000 vehicles a day during the summer months, according to Department of Transportation officials.

It is also # 1 on New Hampshire’s Red List for Bridges in Need of Major Work after being first added to the list in 1999.

On Wednesday, Senator Jeanne Shaheen, D-New Hampshire, visited the bridge as a backdrop to tout the Senate’s $ 550 billion bipartisan infrastructure bill she helped negotiate. The bill sets aside $ 40 billion for the repair and replacement of bridges as part of a $ 110 billion investment in roads, bridges and other infrastructure projects. New Hampshire would receive $ 255 million over five years from the legislation, Shaheen said.

“I wanted to stress the importance of investing in infrastructure,” Shaheen said. “It is a bridge that is not only essential for safety concerns for us and for the economy. (The bill is the) largest investment in bridges since the interstate highway system.”

Construction of the new bridge is expected to begin in 2024 and it will be built just west of the existing bridge with a planned completion date of 2026, after which the old bridge will be removed. The estimated cost of constructing the bridge is $ 72 million in federal funds. These federal funds are not included in the bipartisan infrastructure bill, DOT officials said.

Following:NH considers up to $ 72 million for new Hampton Harbor bridge

Jennifer Reczek, DOT project manager, said the bridge is proposed as a fixed structure that widens the navigable channel below the bridge from 40 feet to 150 feet and increases vertical clearance by an additional 48 feet. According to previous design proposals, it will be 50 feet wide, still have two lanes of traffic, but offer 8-foot-wide shoulders for cyclists and six-foot-wide sidewalks for pedestrians.

“We’re about 50% of the design process,” Reczek said. “We have our environmental documentation through the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) process that we are working to complete this fall, and we will kick off the final design (process) later this year with about two years of publicity. “

A State Department of Transportation rendering of the new Neil R. Underwood Bridge.  It is designed to be a fixed structure with more clearance, a wider navigation channel, and a wider bridge for cyclists and pedestrians.

According to the DOT, the Hampton-Seabrook Bridge, built in 1949, is rated 4 out of 9 possible on the Red List. That means it requires regular inspection every six months by the DOT, Reczek said. The existing bridge had its deck replaced in 2010 and emergency repairs were required to the mechanical system of the drawbridge span in 2018.

However, the Town of Selectman Regina Barnes raised the issue of the Hampton water and sewer lines running under the existing bridge and the costs associated with moving them when replacing the bridge. Shaheen said the infrastructure package will make funds available to state revolving funds, such as the New Hampshire Clean Water Revolving Fund administered by the state’s Department of Environmental Services, which could be used for the project.

A view of the Neil R. Underwood Bridge with a render of its proposed replacement below.  The existing bridge is number one on the state's red list.

One of the main obstacles to passing the bipartisan infrastructure plan is the $ 3.5 trillion two-way budget reconciliation plan also negotiated in the Senate, both of which are in the House now. The broader budget reconciliation package includes investments in child care, health insurance, immigration and measures to address the climate crisis, among others.

According to reports, Conservative Democrats in the House have resisted developing their version of the reconciliation bill until members voted on the Senate infrastructure plan. However, progressive members of the House have said they will refuse to support the infrastructure plan unless the reconciliation bill is passed along with the infrastructure bill, according to reports. President Joe Biden has expressed his desire to sign both bills.

Shaheen said discussions are continuing on the details of the budget reconciliation bill and the final dollar amount. She said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, had promised to hold a vote on the infrastructure bill later this month.

However, Shaheen said both bills provide for much needed upgrades to physical and human infrastructure. She warned her colleagues on the fence not to look at the reconciliation package sticker price, but rather to focus on what the two bills aimed to accomplish.

“However (the House) can do it, I’m definitely interested in seeing that happen,” Shaheen said. “We have to make these investments, we are falling behind our adversaries, like China, and some of our allies, like Europe. It is important to invest not only in the physical infrastructure, such as roads and bridges, but also in the second package,… we have focused too much on the dollar amount and not enough on what is there in (the legislation).

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