At the Sept. 2 Town Council meeting residents continued to ask questions about the proposed Exit 4-A off Interstate 93. A twin theme emerged from the questions: it’s too soon to know and it’s too late to do anything about it.
While Derry never formally signed an agreement to be part of the project, Council Chair Mark Osborne did extensive research over the summer and concluded that the town’s lack of objection to 4-A represented a commitment. He detailed his findings at the Aug. 5 meeting, as reported by the Nutfield News.
He and the majority of the Council agreed to honor their commitment to the project and voted to do so at the Aug. 19 meeting, in which Councilors signed an agreement with the State of New Hampshire to authorize the state to build in Derry. The agreement obligates the state to pay for road construction and improvements, with Derry only on the hook for the $5 million it originally committed to.
With $1.7 million already spent for the environmental impact study, that leaves Derry obligated for approximately $3.3 million toward the cost.
In the public forum of the Sept. 2 meeting, resident Gary Lynch said he voted against 4-A in a previous citizens’ referendum, and his opinion hasn’t changed. “It will raise taxes,” he argued. He said he has a hard time believing that the State of New Hampshire will “bless them” with new roads.
Lynch challenged the idea that the new exit would bring more business. “Look at Salem,” he said. “They have no money, and they have all those big box stores.”
Lynch added, “I don’t see the state paying to widen Folsom Road. I don’t see them paying for a new bridge.”
Councilor Michael Fairbanks said the project is expected to cost $52 million, on the state’s tab. He reiterated that Derry is only obligated for what’s left of the original $5 million.
“Many of us up here share your concerns,” Osborne told Lynch. “But what we voted on is that Derry is legally obligated to honor its commitment. We will try to be as vigilant about protecting the town as our positions allow us to be.”
Osborne added that the Aug. 19 vote was not an endorsement or a repudiation of 4-A, but an acknowledgement of the town’s responsibility. “Does that make it perfect? No,” Osborne said.
Mark Connors, a board member of the Rail Trail group, expressed concern about 4-A’s effect on the popular biking and hiking trail. “There is a section of the trail that connects with a piece of land in Londonderry owned by HYRAX, one of the developers of Woodmont,” he said, referring to a planned development in Londonderry that encompasses more than 600 acres. “I did not see any mention of the Rail Trail in the agreement. We need to make sure the state is aware of this.”
Protecting the Rail Trail, he said, would be a win-win for all and good public relations for the developers.
Resident and downtown property owner Steve Trefethen asked, “Has anybody asked what good is going to come out of this for Derry?”
“Don’t think the Council members up here haven’t asked,” Osborne said. “We’ve heard the arguments on both sides, from ‘doom and gloom’ to enhanced development.” The decision to sign was based in part on a determination to keep Derry from a lawsuit, he told Trefethen.
But Trefethen wasn’t satisfied. “On West Broadway, we depend on the traffic,” he said. When the project first came up it was estimated to remove 25 percent of downtown traffic, and now that proportion is at 50 percent, Trefethen said. He asked, “What are you going to do for the people downtown?”
Osborne said he’d heard it both ways, that removing some of the traffic would benefit downtown.
Resident Ron Goldthwaite observed that the town would find itself in less consternation if “things had been done with more transparency in the beginning.”
Goldthwaite said he had read the preliminary CLD report on the environmental impact and noted that the report stated that $8 to $8.5 million in real estate would have to be taken by eminent domain to make this happen. “We are losing money right off the bat,” he said.
“It’s upsetting,” Goldthwaite said, “to have this rammed down our throats.”
“We will continue to ask questions,” Osborne said.