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Northfield mulls roads overhaul

Six months ago, members of Northfield’s Capital Improvement Committee began developing a multi-million-dollar plan to revamp miles of roads in the town. Now, that plan is taking a firmer shape as committee members meet with the board of selectmen today for feedback.

The plan is expected to cost more than $10 million over a set number of years. Meeting with the board of selectmen, however, is just one step in a still lengthy process before the project is approved. In December or January the committee will have a meeting with the public before shaping a final plan to be included in the budget during town meeting. The goal of the plan is to do a comprehensive overhaul of the town’s roads to eliminate flooding and other routine damage, which will hopefully save money in the long run, said Ed Weingartner, Capital Improvement Committee chair.

“Our primary concern is condition of the roads,” he said. “It costs money for our maintenance crew to go out and repair them and try to maintain them during the winter.”

The first discussions on the plan began in May, and for the past six months, the committee and Highway Superintendent Robert Southworth have been gathering information and assessing the condition of the roads, which total 43 miles in Northfield. The committee also worked with the University of New Hampshire Technology Transfer, the state Department of Transportation and town engineers. The plan includes repaving roads that have potholes and other damage and paving some gravel roads. Any feedback provided by the selectmen will help the committee crystallize the plan before asking for public input.

“The selectmen have to agree with the plan. We can make our recommendations but they know the budget and the pulse of the town,” Weingartner said.

Given that the town and ultimately the taxpayers will foot the bill, Weingartner hopes that when town meeting happens in March, the plan will be detailed to the point of laying out a timeline for when each road will be completed.

Northfield has never undertaken such a large road improvement program, said Glenn Smith, town administrator. The Capital Improvement Plan will also do minor improvements to the police and other administrative offices, but the roads project is the most comprehensive and costly.

The committee will wait to put a timeline in place until gathering feedback from the public. But if the project is spread out over too many years, the town runs the risk of roads deteriorating before the project is complete.

“Roads don’t last forever; once you make an initial investment it has a life to it,” Weingartner said. “We hope to be able to make the investments and be able to keep up with the roads and never get to a point where we’re never really caught up.”

The project is ambitious, but the committee is taking every step possible to take as much feedback from the public into account.

“Basically we want to show the town we’ve assessed all the roads, developed a need,” Weingartner said. “And hopefully explain why the roads were prioritized.”

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or kronayne@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @kronayne.)

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