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Allenstown weighs major road project ahead of 2015 town meeting

Allenstown is weighing a major road project, and Town Administrator Shaun Mulholland said he hopes the town’s attempts to seek community input early on in the project will pay off when the proposed renovations are put to a vote at town meeting in March.

About 35 people showed up to a public hearing held last week to discuss the project’s impact on Library Street, East Webster Street, Webster Street, Whitten Street, Reynolds Avenue and Ferry Street. Another public hearing is scheduled for 6 tonight at Allenstown Town Hall to address proposed renovations to River Road, Heritage Drive, Meadow Lane and Townhouse Road.

The renovations would require that the town seek out a bond, but Mulholland said the town has not yet defined a preliminary budget for the project because it is still determining what the renovations might entail. The goal, Mulholland said, is to have the plans ready to put before voters at the 2015 meeting, and the work would be done between 2015 and 2016.

The renovations would include new roadways, drainage systems and could mean the removal of sidewalks on some streets, the replacement of sidewalks on others. The exact plans for the construction have yet to be finalized, but Mulholland said the town is also trying to schedule upgrades to sewer, water and gas utilities at the same time.

“We’re asking our people to do this together so our neighborhood isn’t an obstacle course,” Mulholland explained.

Indeed, many residents at the meeting weighed in with concerns about the project’s potential impact on their streets and others in the community: How would widening the road affect how far their front doors are from the curb? Would it be better to only install sidewalks on one, not both, sides of the street? If they did install sidewalks, would neighborhood kids and other pedestrians actually use them? Many of these details are still being hammered out in the town’s planning phase, but Mulholland said the spirited discussion surrounding the proposed renovations underscored the importance of getting public input.

“This is personal,” Mulholland told the standing room-only crowd at last week’s public hearing. “You people live there.”

At last week’s public hearing, some residents also raised concerns about traffic on Reynolds Avenue, saying that drivers are not obeying a stop sign on the road and are flouting speed limits. To address these and related issues, Mulholland proposed testing out whether a section of the road could be one-way only. The issue will be discussed at a public hearing at 6 p.m. on July 28 at the town hall.

Wayne Robie, who said he has lived on Library Street since 1973, welcomed the idea of renovations – his street was dubbed the one in most need of repair during the public hearing last week.

Robie has learned to drive carefully to avoid damaging his car on the street’s potholes – “I know I’ve got to go slow,” he said – but friends and relatives have done some damage to their cars when driving on the street.

And he’s also hoping that the renovations might mean that his house and a handful of others in the middle of the street would finally get access to gas utilities. Other houses at either end of the street have gas lines, he said, but it’s been too expensive to install the utilities in his and neighboring houses. At the meeting, Mulholland said there is a possibility that the project could open the door for utilities work to be done more easily and at a lower cost to residents, since the roadways will already be under construction.

Still, as some pointed out at last week’s public hearing, the roadwork would only affect a portion of the town’s residents, and the final decision will hinge primarily on the voters at next year’s town meeting.

Mulholland acknowledged that the work could require an increase in the town’s tax rate, which is the eighth-highest in the state, but the projection will depend on what the project’s plans would entail. To convince other Allenstown residents that this is a worthwhile investment, Mulholland told those at last week’s public hearing: “It’s going to be up to you folks, the citizens.”

(Casey McDermott can be reached at 369-3306 or cmcdermott@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @caseymcdermott.)

Mulholland seems to be taking the right approach here, but the Incomplete Streets civil war raging in Concord had to be at least partially responsible for the SRO attendance. Keep attending those meetings, Allenstown, lest you end up living on Sunken Road, or worse...Bloody Lane.

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