Concerns remain over I-93 expansion plans

  • A map of the original plan to widen Interstate 93 through Concord is seen at a public workshop at the Department of Transportation headquarters in Concord on Wednesday. A new concept presented Wednesday calls for a bridge to be built carrying Loudon Road over I-93 in the area of Exit 14. Nick Stoico / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 6/27/2019 3:01:10 PM

Concord city officials and the Department of Transportation are still not seeing eye-to-eye on plans to widen Interstate 93 through Concord, and they may not come to an agreement for some time.

City Manager Tom Aspell says DOT’s plan to expand I-93 to eight lanes through Concord, as well as install several new ramps and eliminate the northbound on-ramp at Exit 14, is a “non-starter” for the city.

“It’s not something we’re willing to consider, and we’re willing to go to the end and fight it all the way,” he said to a full room during Wednesday’s public workshop at DOT headquarters in Concord. “If we have to go to court to fight it, we’ll go to court.”

After the meeting, Concord Mayor Jim Bouley said DOT has been a “great partner” in the project.

DOT Commissioner Victoria Sheehan said the timeline may have to be pushed back as the agency works with the city, as well as the town of Bow, to find “a solution that works for the city and works for the state in terms of meeting our project goals and their goals.”

DOT is also working with the town of Bow on the area of Exit 1 on Interstate 89, which will also be greatly affected by the widening of I-93.

“Once we started to receive feedback, we knew we had to hit the pause button, especially when you have your host city for a project in Concord and the town of Bow expressing concerns,” Sheehan told the Monitor. “I don’t think we’ll meet the timeline we had originally hoped for because we will be taking a step back to try and come up with a solution that addresses the majority of the major concerns.”

Engineers from McFarland Johnson, the firm hired to work for DOT on the project, presented a new concept Wednesday where a bridge would carry Loudon Road over I-93, creating a more aesthetic entrance to downtown from the Heights with fewer intersections.

This plan would involve lowering I-93 deeper into the ground, which would drive up the cost beyond the initial project DOT has presented. In all, it would add about $60 million to the $260 million project.

Community members, business owners and city leaders said that shouldn’t be a problem.

“We’re worth it,” said Steve Duprey, a local developer. “We’re the state capital, the most significant city. We’re worth the extra $60 million and then some.”

“We’ve got to make this look nice,” said Claudia Damon of Concord. “We just finished working on Main Street. We don’t want people zooming even faster to go by here, we want to draw them into town.”

Some residents were concerned that the project focuses too much on I-93’s function as a way through the city to other destinations rather than the impact on the city itself.

Gene McCarthy, project manager for McFarland Johnson, said his team is trying to balance both the interests of DOT and the city, but he said the significance of this corridor to statewide transportation cannot be discounted.

“You have Interstate 89 and 393 terminate right within this project, so this is certainly critical for the region and the state,” he said.

The project is divided into four segments: the I-89 area (projected cost $70 million), Exit 12 ($33.9 million), Exit 13 ($39 million), and Exit 14/15 including I-393 ($125 million). Lowering I-93 and bridging Loudon Road over it would add at least $60 million on top of the $125 million.

Building a pedestrian bridge over the interstate from downtown to the river would be an additional cost. McCarthy said this could be anywhere from $12 million to $30 million depending on the size. Aspell called for a “major deck” bridge all the way across the river, one that could support foot traffic and bicyclists.

Aspell said cost shouldn’t hold the project back. He pointed to ongoing interstate projects in Salem and Manchester where he says the cost has surged to $800 million.

“The money is not the point,” Aspell said. “The money is what holds back the vision, it holds back the ability for this community to move forward. The money will be there if we push it. It happened in Salem, it happened in Manchester.”

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(Nick Stoico can be reached at 369-3321, or on Twitter@NickStoico.)

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