Transportation system is key to N.H.’s future
For the past several years I have been involved with transportation planning. I am not exactly sure why, except you can’t get there from here — unless you have a viable transportation system. I actually have a master’s degree in urban geography and remember doing simple transportation modeling: links, modes, all that good stuff. Some years ago I became involved with the Initiative for a 2020 Vision for Concord. This effort was initiated because the planning process was not working. New Hampshire communities were updating their 10-year master plans every 10 years, but we were still ending up with sprawl and suburbanization, parcel by parcel. In Concord’s case, federal and state highway officials had just announced their intentions to widen (oops — improve) Interstate 93 from Bow through Concord. Conceived in the 1950s, built in the 1960s and 1970s, the interstate system emerged from post-World War II and Korean conflict planning to facilitate moving troops and materials to ports. Interstate 89 was conceived to tie in Vermont and to connect us to the port of Montreal (assuming Boston and New York were blockaded, I guess). I-89, I-93 and I-393 opened up northern New England to development, which continues unabated today. For 50 years we have been building a transportation system that fosters suburban development, requiring a car to go anywhere or do anything. Today with gas at $3.40 per gallon we have a big oops! Driving a few miles to get a quart of milk hurts today. What can we do about it? Well, it is going to take a generation or more to fix the overall problem. First, we need to stop or slow the continual suburban spreading-out that is gobbling up land very inefficiently. The Concord 2020 Vision had a tag line — Concord 2020, a City of Villages. The point is we need to recreate our mixed-use village hubs. Stop spreading out with single, isolated use zoning (all residential here, all industrial there, etc.). We have to create a built environment that promotes walking, buses and trolleys. We have to break our total dependence on single-occupant vehicles. So I have been very involved with visioning what Concord’s citizens want their city to look like in 2020, 2030 and beyond. But Concord can’t vision and plan in a vacuum. Concord is at the center of a region. Its daytime population doubles. It is at the crossroads of I-89, I-393 and I-93. While I-93 is a huge chunk of asphalt cutting through the center of the city, it does put Concord on the map. Improvements to I-93 will incorporate some of Concord’s concerns, and N.H. DOT, along with the Federal Highways Administration, want to understand Concord’s land use plan so that their transportation planning complements that plan rather than ignores it. Our transportation system is the backbone that supports our daily lives for work, school, living and recreation. Because New Hampshire is small and well educated we can figure out how to have our cake and eat it too — open space and readily available access to creation of new villages where we can live, go to school and even work. Over the coming months you will learn of meetings on the 10-year plan or your town master plan or your region’s concerns. Check it out. Go and learn things, ask questions, get involved. There are real opportunities to improve upon the suburbanized sprawl we have inadvertently fostered for the past 50 years. Bill Norton is president of Norton Asset Management. In addition to his active brokerage work, he is a Counselor of Real Estate. He can be reached at email@example.com.