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Bill Seeks Route 120 Bus Service

Transportation Services Must Now Raise Funds

Claremont — A bill supporting the establishment of bus service along Route 120 between Claremont and Lebanon is expected to soon become law.

The next hurdle is to raise money for the purchase of buses and operational costs.

House bill 650, which creates a partnership between the state Department of Transportation and the nonprofit Community Alliance Transportation Services, passed the Senate last week with only a minor amendment. The bill’s prime sponsor, State Representative John Cloutier, D-Claremont, said he did not oppose the amendment, which states that the Community Alliance of Newport “may actively solicit federal and private funds” to start the service. The House version said “shall actively…”

Community Alliance’s Executive Director Barbara Brill said the backing of the Legislature is an important piece even though the legislation contains no appropriation.

With no state, county or local money in the legislation, Brill said identifying federal and private funding sources would be “a big challenge.” But she noted that employers such as Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and Hypertherm have said they will offer some level of financial support as they have employees who live in Claremont and the other two towns on the route, Cornish and Plainfield.

“The most significant challenge is identifying federal funding,” Brill said.

The money would be used to buy two buses and cover three years of operating expenses, the bill states. Community Alliance has until June 2017 to raise sufficient funding. If it fails to do so, it is required to return any money raised to the contributors.

Initially, the House bill included a $250,000 appropriation but an amendment by State Representative Susan Almy, D-Lebanon, removed the money. Almy said in an interview earlier this year that the bill had no chance of passing with the appropriation.

Cloutier proposed the bill after studies by the Upper Valley Lake Sunapee Regional Planning Commission demonstrated that not only would employees use the service but others would as well, including those needing non-emergency medical services at Dartmouth-Hitchcock. Conversely, many from the Lebanon area could use the bus service to get to the state office buildings in Claremont.

“It links the two communities, the Upper Valley and the lower valley,” Brill said.

State Senator David Pierce, D-Lebanon, said reliable transportation could spur more people who work in the Upper Valley to choose to live in Claremont, where housing is cheaper and that in turn would help the city’s tax base and increase revenue from property taxes.

Cloutier said he will urge the chairmen of the Transportation and Finance committees, both of which reviewed the bill, to have the full House “concur” with the Senate amendment, which avoids the need to reconcile the two versions in a conference committee of House and Senate members.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.