Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig’s long-standing support for a commuter rail line connecting her city to Boston remains unshaken even as the price tag approaches $1 billion. She told WMUR’s Adam Sexton on Wednesday that, if elected governor, she will “absolutely” push through the project in Concord.
At an event with fellow Mayor Jim Donchess of Nashua, Craig reiterated her previous arguments for the rail project, such as economic development and concerns about climate. And she added a new one.
Young Granite Staters, she said, don’t want cars.
“We also know that young people want to be in New Hampshire, and a lot of the young people don’t even want a vehicle,” Craig said. “So, they are getting by with bikes and walking and public transportation that’s really lacking in this state.”
Republican gubernatorial candidate Kelly Ayotte responded almost immediately on social media:
“Tonight on WMUR, Mayor Joyce Craig said ‘the young people” don’t want cars. Guess she hasn’t talked to my kids!”
The argument that Granite Staters under 30 don’t want their own car is an interesting one. It will certainly get the attention of the New Hampshire Automobile Dealers Association.
But it also isn’t supported by the available data. Multiple studies show that while it is true that young Americans are delaying getting a driver’s license or purchasing their first car, they are just as likely to drive as previous generations — if they can afford it.
“The steepest declines in driving between 2001 and 2009 were among young people with low incomes who lived with their families,” said researcher Kelcie Ralph, who wrote her dissertation on the topic. “It was primarily low-income teens in suburban and rural areas who were driving less.”
Those suburban and rural families would foot part of the bill for the Manchester/Nashua/Lowell/Boston commuter rail if Craig has her way as governor.
On WMUR, Craig suggested the buck for rail could be passed to Washington, D.C. “It’s what our residents are asking for, and there are federal funds available,” she said. However, the latest proposal is for federal funds to cover just half of the cost, with Massachusetts expected to cover about 12 percent.
That leaves 40 percent — likely around $400 million once the total bill is tallied — to be covered by Granite Staters, the vast majority of whom would never use the rail system.
“It appears that Joyce Craig is running for governor of Manchester and Nashua and not New Hampshire,” said Greg Moore with Americans For Prosperity – New Hampshire. “Wait until folks in Keene, Laconia, and Berlin figure out she wants to raise their taxes in order to have a train that benefits other people but not them.”
In fact, based on the January draft of the state’s Capital Corridor commuter rail study, nobody would be riding this rail, statistically speaking.
“The Manchester ridership projections are so low (between 38-65 riders per trip by our favorable estimates) that the line will produce no noticeable impact on congestion,” wrote Drew Cline at the Josiah Bartlett Center in a review of the state’s own study.
And those car-hating kids had better like the train a lot because they would be spending a lot of time on it.
“The analysis projects that a trip from Manchester-Boston will take 1.5 hours by train. It currently takes one hour by car. Instead of reducing travel time, it will lengthen commute times by 50 percent,” Cline reported.
Both Democrats in the governor’s race — Craig and Executive Councilor Cinde Warmington — support the commuter rail project, even with its hefty price tag. So do the three Democrats running to replace Craig as mayor of Manchester: Ward 2 Alderman Will Stewart, At-Large Alderman June Trisciani, and Ward 1 Alderman Kevin Cavanaugh.
Republican Jay Ruais said at a recent mayor’s candidate forum the city couldn’t afford the rail project or the millions in operating costs it would require from the city budget. “When do the taxpayers get a break?” he asked.
Ayotte told NHJournal Craig’s support for the rail plan raises questions about her fiscal responsibility.
“Study after study shows that this $800 million dollar rail system is fiscally unsustainable,” Ayotte said. “New Hampshire taxpayers will inevitably foot the bill for this project that Mayor Craig deems necessary because young people don’t want cars?!”
Republican Chuck Morse, who’s also running for the GOP gubernatorial nomination, told NHJournal he’s not impressed by Craig’s stance, either.
“This idea of Craig’s is a financial train wreck in the making. We know from polls and social media that online interest falls way below those who would actually pay to ride, putting our Granite State on a high-speed rail to ruin for New Hampshire taxpayers,” Morse said. “The $800 million budget is a huge amount of money to spend on this boondoggle — never mind the millions in yearly losses from operations.
“I have never supported commuter rail for this reason – it’s irresponsible. Maybe the mayor is hoping to hide the homelessness crisis she created in Manchester, but for New Hampshire taxpayers this is a terrible deal and a non-starter when I am governor.”