My Turn: Don’t let a wider I-93 destroy Concord’s vision

For the Monitor
Published: 2/28/2019 12:20:09 AM

The Bow-Concord Interstate 93 widening will forever change the face of Concord. And not for the better, in this writer’s opinion, unless there is a fundamental change in what the New Hampshire Department of Transportation is planning.

The widening project must be modified to allow Concord’s downtown to connect with the Merrimack River. If citizens and businesses do not speak up, there will be no turning back. The widening project is slated for presentation to the Governor and Executive Council this spring. If there ever is a time for civic action, this is one of those times.

You can make your views known to your city councilors about the widening project. In addition, you can vote on March 5 when a new councilor-at-large will be elected from among four candidates. Ward 10 residents will also be filling a vacancy. Where do the candidates stand on the widening project? How much will they be involved as the project moves toward approval or disapproval by the Governor and Council?

The goal of the widening articulated in the N.H. Department of Transportation’s Environmental Assessment Draft ( is to move traffic through Concord safely and efficiently. This is a laudable goal, but it should not be – and cannot be – the project’s only goal. NHDOT’s I-93 project should not be to the exclusion of the legitimate interests of Concord, which the road bisects. Concord is going to live with the end result forever.

If the widening project is implemented as proposed, Concord will lose meaningful access to the river and be left with a monstrous roadway running through the heart of the city. This is because NHDOT proposes replacing four lanes of traffic (two in each direction) with six “through” lanes plus auxiliary” lanes designed to minimize intra-city traffic in the “through” lanes. This is a total of eight lanes running through our little city, destroying any possibility of linking Concord’s downtown to the Merrimack River.

Of course, with the magnitude of the changes proposed by the widening there are other changes, like the need to modify seven full-access interchanges. The proposed changes chew up land, and in places move the roadway closer to the river, something Concord wants to avoid.

It is not as though Concord is “Johnny come lately” to the I-93 widening process. Rather, it seems that NHDOT has either listened but not heard or has not taken Concord seriously.

Beginning in 1999, Concord citizens, supported by the business community and city officials, organized. The purpose was to articulate a vision that would permit the inevitable widening of I-93 to move traffic through the city and also, as U.S. Sen. Judd Gregg then noted, “enable Concord to confront the difficult challenge of balancing the need for continued economic prosperity and a sound transportation system with preserving its natural environment and historic downtown.”

The Initiative for a 20/20 Vison for Concord came into being under the leadership of then-Mayor Bill Veroneau with $775,000 in grant money. The prestigious and nationally recognized planning firm Goody, Clancy & Associates was chosen to lead the 20/20 visioning process, and it engaged over a thousand Concord citizens. The result was the publication of “A 20/20 Vision for Concord, N.H.

Connection of Concord’s downtown to the river is described as “key” to the vision for the city. The idea is “an 1,100-foot long ‘river connection’ along Pleasant Street Extension starting at Main Street . . . with a widened sidewalk lined with benches, trees, decorative lights and special paving leading to a ‘river connection’ bridge across I-93.

“The pedestrian bridge will be fully accessible and elegant in its engineering. . . . The bridge and (a proposed) tower element . . . will provide a symbolic gateway to Concord for all drivers arriving from the south on I-93.”

The NHDOT Environmental Assessment Draft acknowledges Concord’s “desire for a pedestrian bridge over I-93” but appears to have dismissed the option, calling it “placing I-93 in a tunnel” and “unreasonable due to . . . cost.” Yet, the assistant commissioner for NHDOT at the time, Carol Murray, had earlier enthusiastically endorsed the “20/20 Vision for Concord” report stating: “The planners and designers assigned to (the I-93 widening project) will be working hand in hand with (Concord) to make (Concord’s vision) happen.”

Perhaps the widening should be limited to the current four lanes for “through traffic” with an auxiliary lane in each direction for the intra-city traffic? This would be more in line with Concord’s vision for widening I-93 only to six lanes. Would such a change allow a shifting of project costs to make the important river connection possible? Keeping in mind that the proposed eight lanes revert to four anyway at Exit 15, how much is really gained by eight lanes of traffic running through the middle of our city?

The bottom line is that NHDOT should try harder to accommodate Concord’s plans for the city.

If you do not like what NHDOT is proposing, now is the time to speak up. Now is the time to send the Environmental Assessment Draft back to the drawing board before “Draft” gets eliminated from its title.

The plan for the I-93 widening can be done in a way that allows Concord to achieve its vision for “a vibrant and livable downtown; neighborhoods served by walkable villages; preservation and access to the natural environment; economic vitality and transportation that serves the community.”

There are times when elected city representatives need the vocal support of their residents and the business community. This is one of those times. Now is the time for civic action.

(Mary Susan Leahy is a resident of Concord’s South End. She served as executive director of the Initiative for a 2020 Vision of Concord. She is chair of the N.H. Institute for Civics Education.)


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