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New Route 120 Bus Loop Sought

Claremont — A House bill that would take the first step toward establishing a bus route between Claremont and Lebanon along Route 120 will be voted on by the New Hampshire House as early as today, state Rep. John Cloutier, the Claremont Democrat who sponsored the bill, said Monday.

But unlike the bill’s original form, there is no money in this version.

“It is more like enabling legislation,” said state Rep. George Sykes, D-Lebanon, one of the co-sponsors.

Sykes and other lawmakers said passage is more likely with the amendment to remove the $250,000 appropriation Upper Valley lawmakers had been seeking when the bill was first introduced in the last session.

“That was the strategy behind doing that (taking out the funding) because there is a lot of demand and very little money,” Sykes said.

State Rep. Susan Almy, D-Lebanon, said if the money was left in, the bill had no chance.

“It would have killed the bill,” said Almy, who proposed the amendment.

If the amended bill, which passed the House Transportation Committee 13-5, is approved, it would create a partnership between the state Department of Transportation and the nonprofit Community Alliance of Transportation based in Newport. The public/private venture then would have until June 2017 to raise money through private funding and grants toward the startup costs for the service. After three years, Almy said CAT could request matching funds from the state, with agreement from the DOT and a legislative fiscal committee.

Barbara Brill, executive director of the Community Alliance of Human Services, which operates CAT, said passage would be a good first step, despite the funding being removed.

“It sends a message about the need and gives us an avenue to communicate with DOT (for funding),” Brill said. “DOT would be our primary funding source.”

The DOT money would be from federal funds through the transportation administration, he said.

Brill said a recent study by the regional planning commission showed there is need for a bus for commuters going to work and those using medical services at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.

She said employers, including Hypertherm and DHMC, expressed an interest in providing some level of funding for the bus because they have employees living in the Claremont area. Brill also wants to seek contributions from the four communities along the route, which includes Cornish and Plainfield.

Sykes, the Lebanon Democrat, said the bus makes sense because Claremont has more affordable housing but many of the jobs for residents are in the Lebanon area.

Cloutier drafted the bill after reading the study and attending public hearings.

“I felt this was doable,” said Cloutier, who pointed out that with the state offices in Lebanon closed, people need to access those services in Claremont in the mill district on Water Street.

In addition, Red River Computer, also on Water Street, has employees from the Lebanon area. Both are a short distance across the Sugar River on the pedestrian bridge from the visitors center, where the bus might originate in Claremont.

Cloutier also thought the large parking area near the center at the corner of North Street and Route 120 could possibly be used as a commuter lot for people taking the bus north. CAT has regular bus service from Newport and Charlestown that could bring people to the visitors center for the Route 120 bus.

“If the service is reliable and reasonably priced, a lot of people will use it,” Cloutier said. “I see vast possibilities,”

Brill said backing from the Legislature is important.

“I think we all are aware of the need at this point and now the next step is for the state to formerly get on board,” she said.

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