A U.S. District Court judge's ruling that will delay for eight months to a year the start of the planned expansion of Interstate 93 in Southern New Hampshire is yet another illustration of the death of common sense.

In the ruling on a lawsuit filed by the Conservation Law Foundation, Judge Paul Barbadoro ordered New Hampshire state officials to work with CLF to come up with a new plan for the highway expansion design, because of new population estimates that indicate there may be 35,000 more people in the region by the year 2020 than earlier thought.

The judge ordered the state to account for how that population increase would affect air quality and traffic on secondary roads.

CLF calls this a significant victory. Tom Irwin, a staff attorney for CLF, said it "focuses on a critical issue, and that is, What is the true benefit of this major public investment?"

Why does this require a study? All Irwin, the judge or anyone else has to do to see what the "true benefit" would be is to try to drive the 19.8-mile stretch between the Massachusetts border to Manchester during any rush hour. These new population estimates simply mean the expansion is more desperately needed, sooner than later.

Or are we supposed to think that CLF would support adding even more than two lanes to I-93 in each direction?

CLF's reaction to the ruling is proof that the group cares much more about its anti-auto agenda than it does the environment. In the group's view, it is fine for cars to sit, exhaling exhaust, in gridlock for hours, rather than get to where their drivers want to go, if it will eventually force government to build more commuter rail facilities that will reduce traffic by a paltry 4 percent.

The ruling also puts in jeopardy badly needed repairs to 11 bridges along that stretch of I-93 that have been put on the state's "red list." Those repairs were supposed to be part of the expansion project.

It shouldn't take a study to know what will happen if one or more of the bridges have to be closed because repairs were delayed. It would be a nightmare. Or, in CLF's view, yet another element of a "significant victory."

It is time for CLF to stop the charade: It is not interested in "studying" this project. It wants to block it entirely. It is time for political leaders in New Hampshire to start exerting some muscle in behalf of common sense and their harried constituents. And it is time for the court to come to its senses. Population growth in Southern New Hampshire means the I-93 expansion needs to proceed, not be delayed yet again by another study of the obvious.

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