Concord aims to increase neighborhood paving in future years
Susan Woodard isn’t a regular at Concord City Council meetings, she said, but she was the first person to step up to the microphone at last week’s budget hearing.
“I wanted to share my own personal experience with living on a street that hasn’t been very well maintained. . . . I don’t have many complaints,” Woodard, who lives on Edward Drive in East Concord, told the councilors. “I don’t come to these meetings very often. But the situation last year got really horrible.”
The city is on a 30- to 40-year cycle to repave most of those local streets, but Woodard said worn pavement like that on Edward Drive can’t wait much longer for a fix. Before the council approved this year’s city budget, Woodard was one of several Concord residents who spoke up about the need to repave neglected neighborhood roads. At last Thursday’s budget hearing, she told the councilors about a hard fall her granddaughter suffered a few years ago on the bumpy street.
“She went flying, just really hard on her chest and really had the wind knocked out of her,” Woodard said. “Now I consider that a liability for the city. These streets aren’t being maintained. Had she gotten hurt, I think it would have been a problem for the city. It’s just scary to see your grandchild out there sprawled in the road, and why?
“We’ve paid property taxes here for 36 years, and yet the street can’t be maintained.”
The newly approved budget for fiscal year 2015 includes $1.14 million in capital spending on Concord’s roads. Those dollars are going toward overlay coats on 15 streets, crack sealing and drainage improvements – but no new underlying layers of pavement. City Manager Tom Aspell and the council, however, have pledged to up the city’s paving budget and dedicate that money to neighborhood roads.
“Can we develop a plan to dramatically up the paving without increasing the property taxes?” Aspell asked.
In the past several years, Concord has focused its road program on major connecting roads such as Langley Parkway, Manchester Street and Route 3 North. Money for paving was also cut dramatically during difficult economic times several years ago.
“It came down to roads or police officers, roads or firefighters,” Aspell said.
But most of those major projects are complete or near completion, and Concord is turning its attention back to outlying streets like Woodard’s. The hope, Aspell said, is to eventually more than double what Concord is currently spending in its neighborhoods.
“The target is to get to $2.5 million annually, where we should be for the neighborhood road program,” Aspell said. “Maybe a little more. That’s where we were at before the Great Recession.”
At a June 2 budget meeting, the city council reviewed six emails and letters from other residents of Woodard’s neighborhood. Their streets had been previously scheduled for repaving in 2016, they wrote, but Edward and Irving drives had then been pushed to 2022. Joanne Gutt of Irving Drive sent a picture of cracks and degrading pavement on her street; Janet Brown, also of Irving Drive, questioned putting the city’s money toward potentially heating the sidewalks on Main Street while her street is crumbling.
Paul Tate, who said he built his home on Edward Drive in 1994, wrote: “It’s been 20 years of enjoying a wonderful neighborhood with horrendous roads. Everyone in this community does their best to maintain their homes only to be ignored by our leaders.”
At that meeting, the councilors did add several roads to the existing list for roadwork in fiscal 2016: Edward Drive, Irving Drive, Checkerberry Lane, Oakmont Drive, Fox Cross Circle, Fairview Drive and Country Club Lane. The council also suggested putting a $2 million to $3 million “catch-up” bond toward paving that year, which wouldn’t be considered until next spring. But those changes aren’t official until next spring, when the council approves the fiscal 2016 budget.
Aspell has also made several suggestions toward increasing the paving budget, the first of which was approved as part of the fiscal 2015 budget. The city’s paving manager was previously paid out of the capital dollars earmarked each year for road improvements. This year, that money – about $80,000 – will come from the general fund instead.
“That’s (almost) a 10 percent increase in the amount of paving we can do this year,” Aspell said.
Aspell has four other ideas, which he said the council could consider in the next several years:
∎ Use more gas tax money for paving projects. Gov. Maggie Hassan signed a bill last month that will up the state’s gas tax by 4.2 cents, the first increase since 1991. When that increase takes effect July 1, Concord will begin to receive more money for local road and bridge repairs – and Aspell said that could mean as much as $1 million in new revenue for the city. “Dedicate it to paving roads,” he said.
∎ Increase fees paid into the highway reserve fund by the water and wastewater departments. Those city departments pay $55,000 and $120,000, respectively, into that reserve fund to compensate for utility work they do under the pavement. “That downgrades the life of the road, every time you cut,” Aspell said.
So Aspell has suggested returning those fees to their previous levels from 2006 to 2009 – $124,000 for the water department and $200,000 for the wastewater department – and putting that money toward paving.
∎ Each year, the city receives highway block grants from the state. The amount of money coming in each year should grow over the next few years, Aspell said, and he’s suggested putting the yearly increase of $50,000 to $100,000 toward paving.
∎ Dedicate the amount of money that has been going to interest payments on the Route 3 North project for seven years, including fiscal 2015, to neighborhood paving. The final phase of work on that project will begin next spring. That’s about $250,000 each year, Aspell said.
The city council will again delve into the road program this fall or winter, when its members will meet for a discussion about the capital budget. So suggestions for fiscal 2016 and beyond could change or fall away, though Mayor Jim Bouley reassured Woodard when she sat before the council last week.
Edward Drive “wouldn’t be done this summer, but it would be next summer,” Bouley told her.
But Woodard was still skeptical.
“I don’t see a commitment to the dates,” she said.
“That’s a pretty certain date,” Bouley replied.
“Then, that’s really wonderful,” Woodard said.
A full list of the roads tentatively scheduled for rehabilitation in the next 10 years is available in the capital improvement program budget, which can be found under the “Proposed Budget” link at concordnh.gov.
The city council approved $1.14 million in capital spending for road work in fiscal year 2015, which begins July 1. No neighborhood roads will be fully repaved in that year, but the following roads are scheduled for maintenance overlays:
Mountain Road, from Tow Path Lane to Country Club Lane
Pleasant Street, from Langley to Fisk
Silk Farm Road
An earlier version of this story has been edited to reflect the correct spelling of Concord resident Susan Woodard’s name.
(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)