This first edition of New Hampshire Policy Points provides an overview of the Granite State and the people who call New Hampshire home. It focuses on some of the issues that are most important to supporting thriving lives and livelihoods for New Hampshire’s residents.
New Hampshire Policy Points is intended to provide an informative and accessible resource to policymakers and the general public alike, highlighting areas of key concern. Touching on some important points but by no means comprehensive, each section within New Hampshire Policy Points includes the most up-to-date information available on each topic area as of October 2022.
The following section, Transportation, is one of nine sections that frame this resource guide. Other sections cover Population and Demographics, Income and Economic Security, Economy and Jobs, Housing, Health, Education, Broadband Internet, and How We Fund Public Services. The facts and figures included within this book provide useful information and references for anyone interested in learning about New Hampshire and contributing to making the Granite State a better place for everyone to call home.
To purchase a print copy or download a free digital PDF of New Hampshire Policy Points, visit nhfpi.org/policypoints
New Hampshire’s transportation systems provide the means by which people and goods get to where they need to go. This infrastructure includes the roads, bridges, railroads, and bus routes both people and goods depend on to get to their destinations, ports and waterways that support national and international commerce, and airports that enable planes to safely arrive and depart from New Hampshire. These transportation systems are essential for residents, visitors, and goods moving in, out, and across the state.
Road and Bridges
With Granite Staters heavily reliant on motor vehicles to travel, well-maintained roads and bridges are of critical importance. The upkeep of roads is a shared responsibility in New Hampshire, with both the State and local governments maintaining roads and significant federal funding supporting key road projects. According to information published in 2022, the New Hampshire Department of Transportation (DOT) manages 4,601 miles (27.6 percent) of all 16,688 miles of public roads in New Hampshire, with the remainder managed by local governments. Of DOT’s road miles, about 75 percent were reported eligible for federal funding to support improvements and repairs in 2021, while the remaining 25 percent were only eligible for State funding. In addition, the State manages 2,160 bridges.
The State reported well-maintained major roads in March 2022, with 96 percent of divided highways and 92 percent of statewide corridors in good or fair condition. However, only 80 percent of regional corridors, and 62 percent of local connectors, were in good or fair condition, with the rest in poor or very poor condition.
Local governments are responsible for about 12,087 miles of roadway in New Hampshire. An additional 1,689 bridges are under the jurisdiction of New Hampshire’s municipalities. Rural communities with lower population densities often have more miles of road per resident to maintain. They may depend on more State funding for maintenance compared to localities with a larger property tax base. Rural communities with lower incomes and smaller tax bases may also find it particularly challenging to afford the high costs for road and bridge repairs with locally-raised funds.
Planes and Trains
New Hampshire had 133 registered airports in 2021, 24 of which were open to the public, including three served by commercial passenger airlines. Manchester-Boston Regional Airport is the largest commercial airport located in the Granite State.
The DOT reported New Hampshire had about 450 miles of operating rail lines in 2021, of which 203 miles were maintained by the State government. Two privately-owned Amtrak rail lines serve New Hampshire, including the Downeaster, which stops in Dover, Durham, and Exeter on its path from Maine to Massachusetts, and the Vermonter, which runs along the Connecticut River and stops in Claremont. Tourists are also carried short distances on the Conway Scenic Railroad and the Mount Washington Cog Railway, while other active rail lines in New Hampshire are dedicated to freight.
New Hampshire has limited public transit options for residents across the state. Communities have made an effort to establish local public transit, often benefiting from federal and other grants. As of 2022, there are 11 local public transit systems or authorities in New Hampshire, primarily based in cities in the state, but also serving more rural areas such as Carroll County and towns near the White Mountains. Several intercity bus or train routes also provide Granite Staters access to interstate travel, primarily to metropolitan Boston.
Despite these efforts, only 34 communities have a regular fixed bus route, according to the Nashua Transit System and the New Hampshire Transit Association. Additionally, those organizations found that 2019 funding levels for public transportation in New Hampshire, including state and federal funding, ranked 49th in the nation and was also well below that of the per capita investment by the median state, North Dakota, in 2018. While some communities that lack fixed routes have volunteer or non-profit efforts to support transportation services, particularly for older adults, the lack of public transportation limits Granite Staters’ access to reliable transportation.
New Hampshire’s lack of public transit may disproportionately impact certain populations. Data collected in New Hampshire between 2016 and 2020 show people with lower incomes made greater use of public transit; while about 37 percent of people who drove to work alone made less than $35,000 per year, about half of public transit commuters had similarly low incomes. About 5.5 percent of people who drove to work alone were within 150 percent of the poverty threshold, compared to 14.5 percent of public transit riders. Furthermore, about 1.6 percent of New Hampshire households had no vehicles available. People who speak languages other than English at home, who identify as Hispanic or Latino, who are not U.S. citizens, and who work in service occupations are also more likely to use public transit to get to work. The current public transit infrastructure in New Hampshire is not a time-efficient means to get to work; while the average commute drive time for New Hampshire residents driving alone or carpooling was slightly more than 27 minutes, the average commute time by public transit was about 57 minutes, requiring more time out of the day even for those who have access to public transit.
Getting to Work
New Hampshire residents primarily relied on cars, trucks, and vans to get to work during 2021. Approximately 77 percent of workers age 16 and over traveled by motor vehicle to their jobs; about 7 percent of all workers carpooled, while 70 percent drove alone. About 2 percent walked, and an estimated 0.1 percent bicycled. Approximately 1 percent took a taxicab, motorcycle, or some other means. Only an estimated 0.3 percent of commuters took public transit to work. About 19 percent of working Granite Staters connected remotely from home in 2021, an increase from about 7 percent in 2019.
Federal Investments and Ongoing Maintenance
The federal government has enhanced funding for transportation systems through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which boosted funding for existing federal grants and provided funding for new transportation initiatives. The DOT projects federal funding over a five-year period for New Hampshire’s highway programs will increase by about $244.1 million (24.5 percent) compared to the prior five years, and public transportation funding will increase by an estimated $33.6 million (34.4 percent). New funding dedicated to bridges ($225.0 million), airports ($45.6 million), and electric vehicle charging stations ($17.3 million) is also expected to flow to the State from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The DOT projects that, with these added investments, the number of structurally-deficient State bridges would drop from 118 in 2021 to 88 in 2032. However, the DOT still expects to pave fewer miles of roads in the coming decades, even with the funding increase, and road conditions are expected to decline.
Continuous maintenance and repair can help lengthen the lifespan of transportation infrastructure. Keeping roads and bridges in good condition, rather than delaying repairs until they deteriorate, is generally more cost effective; in 2016, the DOT reported that preserving bridges can have a benefit-cost ratio as high as ten to one. Additional upgrades and maintenance will likely be needed. In 2017, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave New Hampshire’s roads, bridges, and rail lines each a grade of C-, while aviation earned a C+, and ports received a D+.
Reliable transportation and the infrastructure that supports it are critical to people’s lives and livelihoods. Ongoing public investments in the roadways and bridges that people rely upon, as well as public transit options and the efficient movement of goods throughout the state, can both enhance access to transportation and employment options and help reduce long-term costs for the State, local governments, and all Granite Staters.
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This publication and its conclusions are based on independent research and analysis conducted by NHFPI. Please email us at email@example.com with any inquiries or when using or citing New Hampshire Policy Points in any forthcoming publications.
© New Hampshire Fiscal Policy Institute, 2022.