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Shaheen presses Biden team to ramp up infrastructure spending

U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen has urged the Biden administration to expand outreach and to advance planning grants as soon as possible to help states, cities and towns make the most of the federal infrastructure law.

As a lead negotiator for the bipartisan $550 billion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), Shaheen recently wrote a detailed wish list to Mitchell Landrieu, Biden’s infrastructure czar, after she met with New Hampshire city and town officials on the matter.

Landrieu was the former mayor of New Orleans who got high marks for his administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina.

“The local stakeholders will be the ones who truly deliver on the promise of this law for the communities they serve,” Shaheen wrote.

“However, their success depends heavily on the extent of outreach and coordination provided by the administration.”

Shaheen said Landrieu’s office should hold informational sessions, grant workshops and advertise heavily to make sure the programs get full participation across the country.

The state’s senior senator also put a pitch in for the Biden administration to approve New Hampshire projects for many discretionary competitive grants under this five-year bill, such as for bridge repair and rural road construction.

State officials estimate this law gives New Hampshire a 51% increase in federal highway and bridge aid programs.

But it didn’t change the traditional highway formula, which continued to give New Hampshire one of the smallest per capita grant amounts in the country.

Competitive grants

After Congress passed the infrastructure law, Gov. Chris Sununu sharply criticized that part of it.

“I encourage you to recognize and facilitate the role these competitive grants can have in filling the unmet needs of small states like New Hampshire and ensuring that federal assistance is distributed equitably among the states,” Shaheen said.

Some of the law’s critics maintain it didn’t do enough to identify “shovel ready” projects that would stimulate the economy.

Transportation Commissioner Victoria Sheehan told the Executive Council her office was awaiting “further guidance” from the Biden administration about many of the grant programs.

The council is expected to vote Wednesday on whether to accept $177 million in federal highway, bridge and electric vehicle charging aid from this law over the next two years.

Sheehan has asked to use those grants to hire more than two dozen temporary staffers to help her agency get more work out quickly.

The increase will allow the state to move projects up on the next 10-year highway program that the Legislature will consider next spring, Sheehan said.

Much of that additional work can be done, Sheehan said, because the projects are at or near the end of final engineering design; this extra cash will help pay for construction, she said.

Sens. Maggie Hassan and Shaheen were 11 Democrats who worked with 11 Senate Republicans on details of the final infrastructure package.

Regarding grants to expand rural broadband, Shaheen said the administration should send states planning grants to accurately assess how to complete that “last mile” of high-speed internet service in the most rural regions.

Nik Coates, Bristol town administrator, said many rural Grafton County towns, including his own, need that immediate help.

“The job isn’t finished yet, but I know we can count on Sen. Shaheen to make sure these funds will deliver the greatest impact for our communities,” Coates said.

The final bill includes $5 billion to help communities such as Merrimack, Bedford, Litchfield and Londonderry deal with drinking water contamination from so-called “forever chemicals” along with other communities dealing with arsenic in their water.

Shaheen urged Landrieu to ensure the program permit this assistance be not just for public systems, but those who rely on private wells for drinking water.

“With more than 40% of people in New Hampshire and roughly 15% of people nationwide relying on residential wells, it is important that the historic investments in safe drinking water help all families,” she added.

Londonderry Town Administrator Kevin Smith said Shaheen was instrumental in getting this aid into the final deal.

“In Londonderry, it will be critical that our town is able to access a portion of this funding to mitigate PFAS contamination in residential wells and thus provide clean drinking water for all of our citizens.” Smith said.