City going with less costly route on parkway plan

NASHUA – It’s official: Option 2 is option No. 1.

In fact, it’s now the only option.

State and federal highway officials have agreed the city should only pursue the less expensive of two potential routes for the Broad Street Parkway.

The cross-city road would link Central Street to Broad Street near the Exit 6 Welcome Center, including a second downtown bridge over the Nashua River.

In a memorandum this week, Mayor Donnalee Lozeau said a green light from state and federal officials would narrow the scope of an environmental re-evaluation study, which the city has contracted the Nashua Regional Planning Commission to manage.

The scope and fee of the revised contract has been submitted to the state Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration for review and approval, Lozeau said in the memorandum.

The potential savings with this less expensive option is $7.7 million, or 20.5 percent of the city’s $37.6 million portion of the cost, noted Alderman-at-Large Fred Teeboom, the board’s liaison for the parkway project.

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Last fall, the board agreed to commit to the project and borrow up to $37.6 million. That vote marked a milestone in the 30-year history of the controversial project.

Since then, the city and state have signed on a municipal agreement that gives the city ownership of the project. The agreement committed the city to contribute $6 million, to leverage $45 million in federal grants.

Nashua is looking to hire a project manager.

For the environmental reevaluation, the NRPC has subcontracted with Vanasse, Hangen, Brustlin Inc. of Bedford. The first half of VHB’s study was to include a search for “fatal flaws” in so-called Option 2, according to City Engineer Stephen Dookran.

The discarded Option 1, with a total cost of $57 million to $66.4 million, would have followed roughly the same path as an earlier proposal, routing most of the traffic to West Hollis and Kinsley streets on the southern end.

Option 2 is estimated to cost $52 million to $60.5 million. It includes a straightening of the Nashua River Bridge and a less drastic realignment of intersections at the southern end, routing more traffic along Central, Water and Factory streets toward Main Street.

Following the environmental work would be the final design, which is expected to begin in 2010 and take about 15 months, Dookran said. The city may opt to combine the design and construction in a single bid, he said.

Construction is expected to be finished by the end of 2014.

The so-called parkway has been debated in the city for decades, drawing along the way its share of proponents and detractors. It was pared down in 2003 from four lanes to two because of cost.

Public hearings in September on the $37.6 million bond drew a few supporters and dozens of residents opposed to the parkway. The supporters largely were members of the city’s business community.

The Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce has steadfastly argued that the parkway is key to developing the Millyard industrial area. Developing the Millyard to attract business and create jobs has emerged as the chief reason why supporters say the parkway should be built.

Opponents fall roughly into two categories: Residents who live in the neighborhoods that the parkway would cut through, and residents who believe the parkway to be a white elephant that would provide few if any benefits while bankrupting taxpayers.

So far, the city has spent $14 million in federal money, funds that would have to be returned if the parkway isn’t built, city officials say. The money was mainly spent to acquire 29 properties in the right-of-way, with some going to fund preliminary engineering work.