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Senate OKs highway bill; good news for region

The U.S. Senate gave final congressional approval Thursday night to a long-term highway and transit construction bill. The benefits of the measure will extend into the Monadnock Region.

The Senate, approving the five-year bill 83-16, has sent it to President Barack Obama to be signed into law.

The $300 billion measure, is the longest term highway bill in a decade. It is designed to make up for a long-standing shortfall in the highway trust fund, which gets its money from an 18.4 cent federal tax on each gallon of gas drivers buy. That tax has not been raised in 20 years and therefore has not kept up with growing traffic needs across the country.

"This is very good news for us in New Hampshire," U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., said in a conference call ahead of Thursday's anticipated approval.

"We have about 32 percent of New Hampshire's roads that are rated as being in poor or very poor condition," Shaheen said Thursday, citing the N.H. Department of Transportation. "We have a very high percentage of our bridges that are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. And this legislation is going to allow us to better address all of those needs that we have in New Hampshire."

Among other projects in the Granite State, the federal transportation bill ensures funding for the reconstruction of just under 3 miles of Route 12 between Walpole and Charlestown, according to William H. Boynton, public information officer for the N.H. Department of Transportation. The project, estimated to cost $10.3 million, involves widening, shifting and improving the highway to have two, 12-foot travel lanes and two, 4-foot shoulders, Boynton said.

It’s slated to go out to bid to private contractors in August 2016.

The bill provides each state with a 5-percent increase in highway funding and an 8-percent increase in transit funding in the first year, according to Shaheen. This rises to a 15-percent increase in highway funding and an 18-percent increase in transit by the final year.

Other projects Shaheen highlighted as being poised to benefit from the transportation bill are in Berlin, Portsmouth, Concord, Belmont and Conway, as well as a bridge replacement project between Stewartstown and Canaan.

The measure also revives the Export-Import Bank, whose charter expired earlier this year after some conservative Republicans targeted it as a waste of government money.

Renewal of the Export-Import Bank is a victory for Democrats and many Republicans who feared that losing the financing tool for American exports could cause job losses in the U.S.

It’s also a victory for Shaheen and U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., who both pushed for the bank’s reauthorization.