Editorial: City shouldn’t take long path to better roads
The city of Concord has 220 miles of roads. Factors such as the cost of asphalt, which has roughly tripled since 1999, could change the timetable, but if the city spends $3 million per year repairing its roads, it would take 25 years to get them to Grade B condition. At the level of spending approved for roads in 2015, $1.14 million, the task would take 75 years. A Concord resident could be born on a bad road, live a full life and die on the same bad road.
The city council will begin work on the capital budget next fall and winter. City Manager Tom Aspell has outlined a set of options that, if taken together, could add about a half-million dollars to the paving budget. The city could also receive as much as $1 million per year as its share of revenue from the state’s 4.2-cent increase in the gas tax. That sum, if it materializes, could be used to pave roads.
Aspell’s proposals could raise water bills slightly but would not affect the tax rate. A council proposal to buy a $2 million to $3 million “catch-up” bond dedicated to road repair would.
A $3 million bond, after its initial year, adds about 1 percent to the tax rate. This past winter was unusually hard on roads, hard enough we believe, to set the paving schedule back some. Now that most of the city’s major paving projects are done or nearly so – restoring the Route 3 Fisherville Road corridor alone cost some $13 million – more attention will be paid to neighborhood streets, but catch-up won’t be easy. It will depend on what the weather holds (floods that damage streets, freezes that crack and heave them).
Concord residents pay a large and not easily measured surcharge due to the terrible condition of the roads. AAA estimates the annual motorist bill for pothole damage at $6.4 billion nationally. Compare that with the $1.3 billion state highway departments spent on road repairs. Thousand-dollar potholes are not unheard of. Bad roads cost motorists an estimated $600 per year in Boston and $800 per year in Los Angeles, according to the National Transportation Research Group. The group’s estimate for New Hampshire is $404 per motorist. Those estimates do not include lost wages because one’s vehicle is broken down or expenses such as rental cars. Nor do they include the incalculable cost of leaving a city’s residents aggravated and on edge after a trip over its roads.
The city council, as it weighs its options, should consider that, according to the Federal Highway Administration, each dollar in road spending results in an average net benefit of $5.20 in increased travel time and reduced vehicle maintenance costs, pollution emissions and accident costs. AAA advises that motorists whose vehicles suffer serious damage from an encounter with a pothole file a claim for damage reimbursement against the municipality.
Nationally, more than a half-million such claims are filed each year.
New Hampshire residents, however, won’t see any money if they file a claim. State law gives municipalities immunity from such claims, a law that may need reconsideration. Filing a claim in the Granite State isn’t, however, an exercise in complete futility. Once a claim is received, a municipality has 24 hours to repair the pothole to prevent further harm to motorists and their vehicles.
Seven claims were filed in Concord between February and June. All filers were denied payment by the city’s insurer.
Paying for a sizeable bond to get the city’s street paving on a schedule that isn’t measured in generations could mean putting off other expenses, such as a new city library, but we think it’s a necessity.