My Turn: Current I-93 plan is not in Concord’s best interest

  • The old N.H. Department of Transportation buildings off of Stickney Avenue in downtown Concord on Thursday evening, December 20, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER

For the Monitor
Published: 3/6/2019 12:15:09 AM

Mary Susan Leahy wrote an excellent op-ed that appeared in the Feb. 28 Monitor relative to the New Hampshire Department of Transportation plans to expand Interstate 93 through Bow-Concord. Her call to civic action and involvement hit the nail on the head. There is much at stake here, and I believe the future of Concord as a vibrant state capital lies in the balance.

The goal of the Department of Transportation is to move the ever-increasing volume of traffic more safely and smoothly through this congested section of the highway. There are also red-listed bridges and several tricky interchanges that need improvement. The current plan calls for two additional travel lanes and two more “feeder” lanes. This is a complex project that is estimated to cost around $300 million (probably conservative) with construction beginning in 2024, perhaps earlier. It’s a very big deal.

The safe movement of traffic is a crucial goal, but it need not to be attained by ignoring the opportunities this project provides. We can correct some of the sins of the past that cut off downtown Concord from one of our greatest assets, the Merrimack River. Other opportunities include creating gateways to the city that invite travelers in rather than to discourage visitor exploration. The redevelopment of the northern opportunity corridor (Stickney Ave., where those lovely highway sheds stand and beyond) has the potential to not only create a showcase gateway to Concord where a blight now stands, but also generate significant growth in tax base. This, too, is critical to our future, as more than 27 percent of taxable land in Concord is tax exempt, shifting the burden to the remaining 73 percent of us.

Concord residents, business people and elected officials have been weighing in on the possibilities this project provides for more than a decade. A tremendous amount of time and effort went into this planning during the Concord 2020 initiative. So far, none of that input has been incorporated into the current plan. That is unacceptable.

Let’s face it. Concord’s image from I-93 right now is pretty dreadful. The current DOT plan will exacerbate this and will create a permanent scar that future generations will lament. The outcome of this project will likely be the most transformative development for the Capital Region we will see in our lifetime. Right now, it could go either way. Mary Susan Leahy is right. If ever there is a time for civic action, this is one of those times.

(Tim Sink is the president of the Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce.)

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