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Editorial: Complete Langley Parkway, someday

Langley Parkway, the limited access road that runs from Clinton Street to Concord Hospital (and on maps from the hospital to Penacook Street near Lincoln Financial’s campus) has been in the works since 1954. Its final leg, now a gated dirt road beloved by hikers, dog walkers, bikers and birdwatchers that ends on Auburn Street, should be completed – someday. The question is when.

Last week, Mayor Jim Bouley assured scores of residents of the neighborhood near the proposed parkway that, though the city’s capital improvement plan lists construction as starting in 2017, many years will pass before any work is done. “There is no money to do the project,” Bouley said. “There is no great will. There is no desire. There is no great need right this second.”

When it comes to the money, the mayor is right on. Many other capital projects – the Main Street revitalization, replacement of the Sewalls Falls Bridge, construction of a community center on the Heights, a new library and the repaving of crumbling neighborhood streets – all take precedence over an extension of the parkway. Will, desire and need, however, are in the eye of the beholder.

Assuming city traffic engineer Rob Mack’s estimates are accurate, the parkway extension would cut ambulance travel time to the hospital’s emergency room from points to the east and north by eight to 12 minutes. If it’s you or yours in the ambulance, that’s significant. The risk inherent in longer travel time may be bearable now, but at peak traffic times Pleasant Street is nearly gridlocked, and congestion is only going to worsen.

Since it could be a decade or more before work on the extension begins, City Manager Tom Aspell has two options: move the parkway down the list of future projects or take it off the capital improvement schedule. We believe it should remain on the list, even if the construction date continues to be put off. Here’s why:

Extending the parkway pits the desires of one part of the city, and the hundreds of people who use the dirt road for recreation, against the desires of another to be free of the thousands of cars that cut through their neighborhood every day en route to the hospital. When the homes on School Street, and those on its side streets were built – most from the 1890s through the 1930s – Concord Hospital didn’t exist. Instead, a granite obelisk on the property marked it as the site of the 1746 massacre of five Concord-area men by Indians. The builders of that neighborhood’s homes, and the next generation of buyers, had no way to foresee the impact Concord Hospital and its expansion into a regional health care center would have on traffic in the area.

The opposite is the case with the great majority of the homes nearest the planned extension. Most of them were built long after the acquisition of the parkway right-of-way by the city, which began in 1954. The parkway plan has been in the works for decades and available to buyers and real estate brokers. Diligent buyers knew, or should have known, what the future might bring.

Like the mayor, we see no immediate need to complete the parkway, and we worry about its impact on the abundant wildlife in the area. But as the economy improves, traffic congestion worsens and the population served by the hospital increases, completing the parkway could become a necessity. Keeping the extension on the capital improvement list will notify current and future residents that someday the bulldozers might roll.

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