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Rail improvement plan faces a roadblock in N.H.

DOVER, N.H. -- The Executive Council could place a roadblock in the way of a proposed railroad improvement project that supporters say would boost ridership of Amtrak's Downeaster.

The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority wants to improve the rail line in Dover, Newfields, and Exeter.

The agency says the $1.2 million project would allow for the addition of a fifth daily trip between Maine and Boston during rush hours, making it possible to serve more Seacoast commuters.

The agency and the Maine Department of Transportation have asked New Hampshire to use $960,000 of its federal highway congestion mitigation grant to help pay for the project. The railroad authority and Maine would pay the rest.

The proposal requires approval from the Executive Council and the state Department of Transportation.

Transportation officials have pledged support for the project after a state committee responsible for selecting projects that use the federal grant unanimously backed it.

But some Executive Council members do not like the idea, saying the project would not help reduce highway congestion or air pollution, the point of the federal grant.

''The concern I have is it's not going to materially improve" either issue, said Peter Spaulding.

He said that creating park-and-ride facilities along Interstate 93 would be a better use of the money.

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