The imminent opening of the access road to the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport, to be known as Raymond Wieczorek Drive, as well as the Interstate 93 widening project and other infrastructure improvements, got me thinking about roads. So did a recent Boston Sunday Globe article, which said that the United States has 4 million miles of roads, covering a surface area equivalent to the size of South Carolina.Unfortunately, roads and bridges are getting more attention these days because they are starting to crumble, and the dollars needed to fix them are not as readily available as they have been in the past.When the interstate highway system was envisioned and built during the Eisenhower years, no one could have imagined how many vehicles might one day in the future travel over them.I've written in past columns about the importance of frontage, visibility and access to commercial real estate, and these features are all intimately connected with roads.This is especially true in New Hampshire. Think about it. Most days you travel from your suburban home to a workplace accessible only by car. Your workplace was probably chosen because of its proximity to the owner's home and the staff, as well as how accessible it is for employees and customers.Also, retailers make location decisions based on access and visibility. In fact, they are also focused on average daily traffic counts; the more traffic, the better.In New Hampshire, just like in California, we need our cars to get to where we are going, and we rely on roads to get us there. We also rely on roads to get tourists here.I have friends who live in New York City, and they haven't owned a car for years. Whenever they want to get out of the city they rent a car, because the cost to do so is cheaper than the cost of owning and storing it in the city. The transportation network available within the city makes a car unnecessary. Many people also get by without cars in Boston and other major cities.We all payThe road projects mentioned above have been front and center in southern New Hampshire for some time. The I-93 widening has been under way for a few years, expanding lanes between the Massachusetts border and Manchester in order to allay safety concerns on roads that were built many years ago when daily traffic counts were far lower.The airport access road is set to open this month, in order to provide better access to the airport, especially for travelers coming north from Massachusetts on Route 3, and to alleviate congestion on Brown Avenue.Nashua is moving forward on the Broad Street Parkway, and other projects around the state are either under way or in various stages of planning.Who makes decisions about roads and how to pay for them? While it's easy to say that "they" do -- referring to government agencies -- the reality is that we all do.The New Hampshire Department of Transportation advertises meetings for new road projects, and does a pretty good job of keeping people up to date on the status of projects through these meetings and its website. And when it comes to paying for roads, "they" is really "us," the taxpayers, whether it's federal, state or local dollars. Given the age of the roads, and the petroleum-based products needed to maintain them, the costs to do so can only keep rising.Many alternatives to roads are under consideration, but the reality is that given the way people are spread out in New Hampshire, we will continue to rely on the existing road network for many years. So the next time you go for a ride, pay close attention to the roads you're driving on. Think about their importance to you, and how much you're willing to contribute to their upkeep, and how involved you can get in the process so that your voice is heard.Dan Scanlon, JD, CCIM, is an adviser with Grubb & Ellis|Northern New England, Manchester. He can be reached at 603-206-9605 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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This article appears in the November 4 2011 issue of New Hampshire Business Review