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At Concord City Council meeting, city engineer downplays impact of downtown construction

North Main Street, Concord during Market Days; Thursday, July 19, 2012.

(Alexander Cohn/ Monitor file)

North Main Street, Concord during Market Days; Thursday, July 19, 2012. (Alexander Cohn/ Monitor file)

In February, the Concord City Council told city staff to go back to the drawing board on the Main Street project.

Last night, City Engineer Ed Roberge went back to the drawing board – literally – in front of the council.

On a white board, Roberge sketched the way cars would navigate through construction crews as they build the latest manifestation of the downtown redesign. He drew the paths pedestrians would follow around heavy machinery and over torn-up sidewalks. He patiently answered questions from the council, who received the $10.22 million proposal last week.

While construction would be a significant undertaking, Roberge said the proposal outlines “the same dramatic and transformative Main Street project.”

“There’s no question it’s a major project, and it’s going to kick up some dust,” Roberge said. “There’s no other way to describe it. But you won’t see . . . from a business perspective, a full six months of detailed hard work in front of you. We’re really talking about a short time, two to four weeks, that has that impact.”

The proposal emerged from closed negotiations with city staff, contractor Severino Trucking of Candia, consultant engineering firm McFarland Johnson and the Federal Highway Administration. Roberge described those negotiations as “a very collaborative and critical process.”

“I know that there’s been some comment that, boy, it seemed like that was somewhat behind doors or confidential,” Roberge said. “The process has to be that way because we’re ensuring not only the information we have, but also the contractor. Some of the innovations that were introduced, it was important to remain confidential, as well as the pricing components.”

The council will soon decide whether to adjust and then whether to approve the project. During last night’s meeting, Mayor Jim Bouley turned to Tom Severino, vice president of Severino Trucking.

“You’ve done these projects in Portsmouth, Newmarket and Somersworth,” Bouley said to him. “We’ve gone through over 40 slides and we’ve heard our city engineer tell us this is the way it should be and this is how we assume it will be and hope it will be. Since you’ve done this three times, what’s it really like? What are the surprises you’ve experienced in other communities that we should be ready for?”

A construction project, Severino responded.

“There’s dirt and there’s dust, and we’re inconvenient to be there,” he said. “There’s no two ways around that. . . . But for all intents and purposes, we have a plan of attack on how to methodically move through there.”

The council focused most of its questions on minute details, like lighting and ornamental planters that have been cut from the staff’s recommendations to save money. The hope for a snow-melt system has seemed to diminish with multimillion-dollar estimates from city staff.

“I think there were some hard choices that the team presented tonight,” Bouley said.

Instead of heated sidewalks, city staff has recommended a four-person “red-carpet team” at the cost of $272,000 each year. That team would be responsible for year-round maintenance in the downtown area.

“We heard throughout the project advisory committee, don’t build something if you can’t maintain it,” Deputy City Manager for Development Carlos Baia said.

Some downtown businesses, such as Zoe & Co. Professional Bra Fitters, have installed their own snow-melt systems outside their entrances. Ward 7 Councilor Keith Nyhan and at-large Councilor Fred Keach questioned whether others might do the same while construction crews opened the sidewalks in front of their buildings.

“The amount of coordination would be monumental, quite honestly, especially on an individual basis. . . . It would be extremely difficult,” Severino said.

City staff will present the proposal twice more for the Merchants’ Roundtable and other downtown stakeholders. Those meetings will also be open to the general public; they are scheduled for next Tuesday from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. and July 9 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

The council will hold a public hearing and vote during its next regularly scheduled meeting July 14. That meeting will begin at 7 p.m. in council chambers.

If approved, construction would begin this summer.

“We want to start as soon as possible,” Roberge said.

To read the latest Main Street proposal and to see presentation materials from last night’s meeting, visit concordmainstreetproject.com.

(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321 or mdoyle@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)

Legacy Comments1

Never seen such a display of smoke and mirrors. Mayor Jim Bouley asks a pointed question of Severino Trucking Company VP, Tom Severino, and he replies with something out of Ace Trucking Company. Answer the question, Tom. Meanwhile, back at Mission Control, City Engineer Ed Roberge wants "to start as soon as possible". Of course he does...before the good citizens of Concord realize just what's being rammed down their throats, and revolt.

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