As parkway vote nears, more take chance to speak

NASHUA – The arguments were hardly new, but with a potential vote looming in the coming weeks, proponents and opponents of the Broad Street Parkway made their points with urgency.

Proponent Casey Holt likened the parkway issue to a car in a skid. Those who favor the roadway have their eyes fixed on where they want the car to go, while opponents are like fearful backseat drivers focused only on what the car might hit, Holt said.

“With the Broad Street Parkway, I think we’ve been in the longest skid any of us can imagine,” Holt said.

On the other hand, opponent Michael Chrissis said the cross-city roadway “is a high-risk, low-yield project with great potential to fail.”

Chrissis called the scaled-down, decades-old proposal “a severely beaten and mutilated dead horse.”

Holt and Chrissis were among about 40 speakers during a special board of aldermen’s meeting Monday. About 65 people attended the meeting.The purpose of the special meeting was to have a public hearing on a proposal to bond up to $37.6 million to build the parkway, which would connect the downtown area near Pine Street Extension with Broad Street near Exit 6 of the F.E. Everett Turnpike, crossing the Nashua River near the Millyard Technology Park along the way.

Roughly two-thirds of the people who spoke opposed building the parkway. A handful of the opponents spoke more than once.

The hearing was similar to one aldermen held last month on a proposal to package the parkway with four other bonds.

The difference: At the earlier hearing, Chris Williams, executive director of the Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce, was the sole parkway proponent to speak. On Monday, Williams was joined by a dozen other business owners in arguing that the parkway was a wise investment in infrastructure necessary for the city to grow.

While proponents said the parkway would provide a crucial second downtown river crossing, especially in case of a disaster, and would alleviate congestion as the city grows, most of their arguments touched on the road’s potential to open up not only the Millyard but the entire downtown area to new development.

“The truth is, downtown is a lot more fragile than a lot of us would like to believe,” said Scott Flegal, an attorney with an office on Main Street.

Flegal also is a former official with the Chamber of Commerce and with Great American Downtown and a columnist for The Telegraph.

Opponents said only “special interest groups” like businessmen and developers want the parkway built. They also said proponents haven’t shown any tangible evidence that building the parkway would boost the downtown economy.

Many of the speakers argued that with the economy in recession, taxpayers couldn’t take another hit by paying the parkway’s cost. Chrissis noted that by borrowing $36.7 million, taxpayers would pay as much as $66 million in principal and interest if the loan was stretched over 30 years.

Other opponents said if the parkway was such a good idea, aldermen would have approved the roadway years ago when it was four lanes – not the current two-lane alignment – and cost much less.

“The time for the Broad Street Parkway has come and gone,” said resident Robert Desharnais.

Many opponents criticized aldermen for voting down a proposal to have a referendum on the parkway, although the vote would have been nonbinding.

A two-thirds vote of aldermen, or 10 members of the 15-member board, would have to approve the bond. The bond resolution is expected to come to the full board of aldermen for a vote within the next few weeks.