By John Toole
---- — State hearings next week in Londonderry and later this month in Derry give officials and residents the chance to advocate for Interstate 93 widening, a new Exit 4A and Pettengill Road development.
The New Hampshire Department of Transportation and a governor’s advisory commission are holding 25 hearings statewide to hear the public’s priorities for the 10-year transportation plan.
“Those are all very important local priorities,” said Executive Councilor Chris Pappas, D-Manchester, who represents Londonderry. “When I look at the state, Londonderry is at the center of many important highway projects.”
The plan sets the state’s strategy for road and bridge improvements for the next decade, using state and federal funds.
Pappas said DOT will put a draft plan before the public for comment.
“I would urge people to turn out at those hearings to ensure the priorities of Londonderry and Derry are well represented in this plan,” he said.
The Londonderry hearing will be at 7 p.m. Thursday in council chambers at the town offices, 268B Mammoth Road.
The Derry hearing will be 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 25, in the municipal center, 14 Manning St.
Finishing the $800 million I-93 widening will be a priority.
“That is a priority by law,” said Rep. Sherm Packard, R-Londonderry, a member of the House Transportation Committee. “We passed two bills in the past 10 to 12 years to do that.”
The state is still looking to come up with $250 million needed to complete the work. Pappas said the Legislature will consider funding options next session.
Exit 4A also has some powerful supporters.
“Sen. Jim Rausch is determined to get Exit 4A done,” Packard said.
Rausch, a Republican from Derry, is chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee.
That project also is costly. Packard said recent estimates have put the price around $40 million.
“The question is whether the funding will be there to do it,” Packard said.
That’s true of all projects.
“There is a scarcity of funds for the 10-year plan,” said David Preece, executive director of the Southern New Hampshire Planning Commission. “I think the state’s priorities will be the repair and maintenance of existing infrastructure.”
Londonderry officials also want to develop Pettengill Road between I-93 and Manchester-Boston Regional Airport.
A study concluded developing the road could open 1,000 acres of land for commercial uses, creating 10,000 or more jobs.
“We will certainly be advocating for it,” LondonderryTown Manager Kevin Smith said. “This would be mutually beneficial to the town and state.”
Londonderry’s support will come as no surprise to state officials, Smith said. Gov. Maggie Hassan and Pappas have been to town to hear from officials about the project, he said.
“There’s no better untapped site for development than Pettengill Road south of the airport,” Pappas said.
Pettengill Road could have a huge statewide impact through those jobs, he said.
Regional planners see the value.
“Pettengill Road is one of our top projects,” Preece said.
The project is expected to cost at least $8 million.
Londonderry and New Hampshire really can’t delay in moving that project forward, in Packard’s view.
“We can’t wait 10 years,” he said.
But funding again will be an issue. Pappas said Pettengill is a local road, so federal aid would be restricted.
Packard expects local officials will participate in the hearings to have their voices heard.
“I think you’ll see local officials attend,” he said.
But he sees a reason others might show up.
“Any citizen interested in fixing our infrastructure should attend,” he said.
The hearings are a chance for residents and businesses to be heard, Preece said. They can advocate for more funding for infrastructure generally or for specific projects, or services such as mass transit, he said.
Even if people don’t want to voice their opinions, it would be beneficial to attend just to learn the state’s priorities, Smith said.
William E. Watson of DOT’s Bureau of Planning and Community Assistance said the public’s support is important, with the department fighting for sufficient resources to fund projects.
“Without public support, we don’t have a chance of doing that on our own,” Watson said.
People who can’t attend the hearings can still offer testimony. Watson said they must do so by Oct. 31.
Written comments can be sent to Watson at the Bureau of Planning and Community Assistance, N.H. Department of Transportation, John O. Morton Building, 7 Hazen Drive, P.O. Box 483, Concord, 03302-0483.