Kaitlyn G Woods and Kathleen D Bailey
Governor Maggie Hassan has directed the New Hampshire Department of Transportation (NHDOT) to accelerate the Exit 4A project, announcing she intends to place a higher priority on the project in the State’s 2017-2026 Ten Year Transportation Improvement Plan.
In a letter to the Londonderry Town Council, Hassan outlined her support for the project, saying, “A strong transportation infrastructure is crucial to our economic development, and to the safety and quality of life of our citizens and visitors.”
“The bipartisan transportation funding plan that we passed last year is advancing critical road and bridge projects and helping to finish the long-overdue expansion of Interstate 93, and I believe that Exit 4A needs to be included in that context,” Hassan wrote.
DOT representatives have cited budget constraints and the need to update an Environmental Impact Study (EIS) for the project as reasons they are pushing construction of Exit 4A out past 2022, as reported in last week’s edition.
Londonderry Town Manager Kevin Smith said his biggest concern going into the Oct. 8 meeting with the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Intermodal Transportation last week to discuss the Ten Year Plan was the DOT’s assertion the prior week that there was no money for Exit 4A construction and they wanted to shift the process back to the towns.
“Just over a year ago, they were asking to take it over, and now they seem to be walking everything back. We wasted a whole year, thinking they were taking care of things,” he said, noting the Executive Council seemed to be on board with moving the project up.
The meeting was one of 16 public hearings the DOT has held across the state with members of the Executive Council to detail infrastructure improvements needed and develop a draft plan, which is submitted to the Governor in December.
Hassan may amend or adjust the plan before submitting it to the legislature for its consideration.
At the meeting, Londonderry Town Councilor John Farrell asserted the construction of Exit 4A in conjunction with the widening of Interstate 93 to Manchester is integral to the proposed Woodmont Commons project, the largest economic development in the State’s history.
“I recognize the economic potential that Exit 4A has for our communities and our state as a whole. As part of my review of the Ten Year Plan, I intend to work with the New Hampshire DOT to examine ways to place a higher priority on the Exit 4A project and to accelerate the project, in conjunction with the widening of I-93,” Hassan wrote in her letter to the Council.
In response to an inquiry as to how the Governor’s announcement will affect prioritization of Exit 4A construction, NHDOT Public Information Officer Bill Boynton said the project is fully funded in the draft Ten Year Plan, and the Department continues to work through the Ten Year Transportation Plan update with the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Intermodal Transportation.
“We understand the priority and are looking at ways to accelerate it. The NHDOT is prepared to work with the Towns to advance the project,” he wrote in an email.
Smith said he doesn’t anticipate that moving out Exit 4A construction to complete the Environmental Impact Study will impact the development of Woodmont Commons, but said developers are looking for the project to be completed around the same time as the completion of I-93 improvements.
“The land will get developed, either as what they have set out for as commercial industrial, or as all residential,” he said. “We would, of course, much prefer to see it be developed as commercial industrial.”
“Exit 4A represents a significant economic development opportunity for the region and the state, and assuring expedient timing for funding and completion of the project will spur economic development and create jobs,” Hassan wrote.
Derry Town Council Chairman Tom Cardon was also at the meeting and said he agreed with Hassan’s fast-track approach. “If they’re going to do it at all, they should fast-track it,” Cardon said in a phone interview Friday.
“It doesn’t make sense to finish 93 and then start 4A,” he added.
Cardon said the DOT has assured the two towns that Exit 4A will not cost more than the $5 million they’ve already put up. “I will believe that when I see it,” he said.
Cardon has studied the possibility of a 4A for years and has an inch-thick folder. His biggest issue now is the lack of leadership. “I spoke in the meeting, and I said, ‘Somebody needs to take charge,’” he said.
The project involves 10 entities, which Cardon listed as the Town of Derry; Town of Londonderry; the DOT; the FHA; the U.S. Environmental Protection Administration; the Army Corps of Engineers; CLD, the firm doing the environmental study; Normandeau Associates, the Bedford firm doing some environmental work; HIRAX of Derry, the firm that bought the land from Boston North; and the developers of Woodmont Commons in Londonderry.
“They need an overall project manager,” Cardon said.
He’s disappointed that the Environmental Impact Study has lapsed since 2007. “It’s basically junk,” he said. “They have to start all over again.”
Cardon advocates a more organized approach, especially at this stage of the Exit 4A game. “We need to say, ‘Okay, what needs to be done?’ How long will it take? What’s lapsed, what hasn’t lapsed, and what can we still use?”