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"Manchester, New Hampshire airport growth raises eyebrows"


 
Sunday, December 10, 2000

Airport growth raises eyebrows
By ELLEN GRIMM
Nashua (NH) Telegraph


MANCHESTER – A second parking garage with 4,000 public parking spaces and
$20 million in parking and road improvements.

These were among the plans announced recently by Manchester Airport
officials, who say more than 3 million passengers will have used the airport
by the end of this year.

To some, though, this spells a lot more cars and all the problems they
bring.

“The Manchester Airport touts their parking garage, which is the largest in
New England. All that does is encourage people to park, so they gain
(revenues),” said Nancy Girard, director of the Conservation Law Foundation.

The foundation has been critical of the airport’s emphasis on cars over
alternative forms of transportation such as railroad, contending the
increase in traffic could cause more air pollution.

And the state Department of Environmental Services wants to take another
look at auto emissions connected with traffic to and from the airport.

As part of its ongoing upgrade, the Manchester Airport expects to finish
extending its main runway from 7,000 to 9,000 feet in the next few years.
The lengthening of the second runway from 5,800 to 7,000 feet is just about
finished.

About a year ago, the airport completed its first new parking garage with
room for more than 4,000 cars. In addition, the state Department of
Transportation is planning to build a road connecting the F.E. Everett
Turnpike to the airport entrance.

Airport Director Kevin Dillon points out that the airport’s expansion plans,
including those recently announced, were all part of an approved 1997 Master
Plan that included an environmental impact study conducted by the Federal
Aviation Administration.

Yet Mike Fitzgerald, supervisor of mobile source planning at the DES, wants
to take another look at emissions connected with the airport.

Fitzgerald plans to meet soon with the FAA to discuss conducting an analysis
of general emissions connected with the airport – in addition to a routine
emissions analysis that is required before a new air traffic control tower
is built.

“Our concern is that this is a rapidly growing airport in an area that is
already in non-attainment,” he said.

In 1992, southern New Hampshire was designated as being in serious
non-attainment for ground-level ozone, which means the area exceeded the
national ozone standard four times over the course of three years.

That designation is largely the result of monitoring that took place in
Massachusetts, according to Ken Finemore, a DES official. The southern New
Hampshire non-attainment area is part of a larger metropolitan statistical
area that includes parts of Boston and Lawrence, Mass.

In fact, monitoring over recent years has shown that the area is in
attainment, Finemore said. But applying for redesignation is a complicated
and laborious process, he said, and the environmental community is now in
suspense while the EPA is fighting a legal battle against industry interests
to establish a more rigorous ozone standard.

Meanwhile, Girard is hoping the airport will take a serious look at
alternative forms of transportation.

“Where’s the rail alternative? Where’s the bus alternative? Why aren’t
people given (various forms) of mobility and how to access that airport?” he
asked.

Dillon said he has been working for the past six months on providing bus
alternatives to travelers.

“Certainly, the airport wants to do its part in terms of other environmental
issues, in particular air quality issues,” he said.

Dillon is close to reaching an agreement with Massport, he said, which would
result in connecting the Manchester Airport with a Logan express bus stop in
Woburn, Mass.

The next step would be to convince private bus companies to provide service
to the airport. That might involve turning to the state Department of
Transportation for subsidies until the service could support itself, he
said.

“I do believe it’s a market that would sustain itself,” he said.

“If you put 40 people on a bus, you’ve taken 30 cars off the road,” said
Harry Blunt, president of Concord Trailways, which analyzed the viability of
bus service to the airport at the request of the DOT and the governor. “The
average passenger count is 1.5 passengers per car.”

Blunt said the airport is receptive to bus service, but the bus company
found that there are financial hurdles.

“The problem here is who’s going to pay for this service?” he said. “We are
of the belief within our route system that there is not enough demand to
provide enough frequency.”

If buses come infrequently, passengers may not find it worthwhile to wait,
particularly when they can hop into their own cars, he suggested.

“The biggest barrier to public transportation is convenience,” he said.

Dillon said he is also interested in rail service to the airport and points
to the widening of Interstate 93, which will include sufficient room in the
median for a railroad line.

“Closer on the radar screen is reactivation of passenger service on the
Nashua line,” he said. “They’re talking about bringing that into
 Manchester.”

Dillon sees potential for combining a rail station with the proposed airport
access road that will connect with a new entrance to the airport. Such ideas
are being discussed by the Governor’s Integrated Transportation and Rail
Advisory Task Force, he said.

For Girard, who is also a member of the task force, these possibilities are
nowhere near concrete. Meanwhile, the airport has eliminated a chance to
hook up with an existing railroad line that connected Manchester with
Lawrence, Mass., by paving over the area to lengthen one of its runways, she
said.

Dillon said the Lawrence connection at the airport had been abandoned and
that the line is in disrepair in many areas. He also said it was on the
“wrong side” of the airport.

The Nashua line would make more sense, he said, because it would be close to
the new airport access road.

Girard disagrees.

“Others would die to have a rail line coming into their area,” she said,
noting that Dillon’s other railroad scenarios are only theoretical.

In a petition to the state Public Utilities Commission, the foundation
claims the airport violated a statute under PUC jurisdiction by not
following routine procedures – such as holding a public hearing – before
removing the railroad line. Such conduct, the petition reads, was
“inconsistent with the public good.”

The PUC rejected the foundation’s petition, but the state Supreme Court
recently agreed to hear the case.

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