Editorial: Help your city reconnect with its river

Published: 3/10/2019 12:05:33 AM

The current design for the widening of the 4.5-mile stretch of Interstate 93 through Bow and Concord is an abomination. Created by the Concord consulting firm McFarland Johnson at the behest of the state Department of Transportation, the plan has one goal: to speed interstate traffic along as quickly, safely and cheaply as possible.

The plan ignores aesthetics. It ignores the concerns of the state’s capital city and the town of Bow. It fails to mitigate the tragic mistake, one committed all over America a half-century or more ago, of cutting cities in half with freeways and separating them, as in Concord, from their greatest natural assets: the rivers flowing through them.

A remedy for congestion on the interstate has been under discussion for more than 40 years, and design discussions have been held for the last quarter-century. Throughout the process the state DOT has been intransigent. Its public hearings have been nothing but forums to allow people, including Concord’s mayor and city manager, to state their objections. The department ignores the input and plods along its chosen path.

It has been formally aware of the city’s desire to reconnect with the Merrimack River via a pedestrian bridge, a deck over a portion of the highway or other means for decades. “Too expensive” is always the response.

The federal government has spent hundreds of millions, billions in the case of Boston’s Big Dig, that reunited portions of that city to remedy its transportation errors. It’s done likewise in Providence, R.I., San Francisco and Seattle. Why is the state’s DOT afraid to ask for the federal funds it would take to do the job right?

In 2017 alone, New Hampshire paid $314 million more to the federal government than it got back in the form of federal investments in the state, according to the Rockefeller Institute of Government. The current estimated cost of widening the Bow-Concord corridor is $300 million. To our knowledge no dollar figure has ever been attached to the cost of potential pedestrian bridge or any other attempt to reconnect with the river. Why?

Attorney Mary Susan Leahy, who led an effort decades ago to envision the future of Concord in 2020, and Tim Sink, president of the Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce, critiqued the state’s plan recently in these pages. Their voices should be but the first of a chorus of complaints about the project, complaints directed to the state’s Executive Council (which oversees state contracts), legislators and the state’s congressional delegation.

Congressman Chris Pappas, who sits on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, as a former executive councilor knows the road well. We urge him to take the lead and, along with Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan, and Rep. Annie Kuster, intercede on the city’s behalf. We urge the governor to get involved.

The DOT’s plan would create an ugly, eight-lane freeway through the heart of Concord, further dividing the city, separating it from its river and speeding travelers past, rather than into, the state capital.

In her essay, Leahy warned that the DOT’s current design would “forever change the face of Concord.” She’s right. It would also prevent the economic and recreational boom that occurs when communities access their waterfront. Every vision of the future of Concord has included access to a river that now runs swift and clean through the city.

It’s time to oppose the DOT’s soulless plan and fight for that future.




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