City to set course on proposed road

NASHUA – Decades of twists and turns in the attempt to build a cross-city road and new bridge over the Nashua River may culminate Tuesday with a vote of the board of aldermen.

This is as close as the Broad Street Parkway has ever come to being formally endorsed by the city’s top legislative board.

Ten of the 15 board members must vote to borrow up to $37.6 million for the bond resolution to pass. It’s possible the board might have those 10 votes, though it will be close.

Based on past votes and discussions, the board appears to line up this way:

Backing the parkway would be Aldermen-at-Large Steven Bolton, Brian McCarthy, Ben Clemons, Fred Teeboom and Lori Wilshire and Ward Aldermen Dick LaRose, Michael

Tamposi Jr., Michael Tabascko, Tamposi Jr., Michael Tabascko, Marc Plamondon and Jeffrey Cox.

Bond opponents would be Alderman-at-Large David Deane and Ward Aldermen Mark Cookson, Paul Chasse, Jr., Dick Flynn and Dave MacLaughlin.

One of the uncertainties is whether LaRose will be able to make the meeting. LaRose has frequently missed meetings in the past months as he battles a health issue.

Should the parkway bond pass, a mayoral veto seems out of the question. Mayor Donnalee Lozeau famously said of the parkway, “Need it. Gotta have it,” during her campaign, and the mayor only wavered in her support of the roadway when the cost estimate last year came in at a staggering $90 million-plus.

At that price, the most ardent supporters were hedging. When a subsequent study found ways to reduce the cost to a more manageable level, Lozeau again was trumpeting the project.

The parkway got another boost when the bond resolution was put forth by Teeboom and Plamondon, two aldermen who usually find themselves on opposite sides of the fence when it comes to city spending.

The budget review committee Sept. 16 gave the bond its blessing by a 5-2 vote.

Meanwhile, public hearings on the proposed 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 new businesses and create well-paying jobs has emerged as the chief reason why supporters say the parkway should be built.

Supporters also argue that the parkway will accommodate future traffic needs as the city grows, and the second downtown bridge will be crucial if the Main Street bridge needs to be shut down for repairs or in case an emergency strikes the heart of the city.

Opponents fall roughly into two categories: Residents who live in the neighborhoods which 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.

The project originally gained federal dollars to alleviate downtown congestion and ease air pollution atop Library Hill, problems that largely had been solved by the widening of Route 3, opponents argue.

Some opponents contend the only purpose now for the parkway is to line the pockets of developers.

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

The parkway would be a cross-city roadway linking Broad Street to the west, crossing the Nashua River, passing through the Millyard technology area and linking with the Tree Streets area to the south and east.

City Engineer Steve Dookran is the project manager for the parkway. The cost studies were undertaken by the Nashua Regional Planning Commission, which contracted with Vanasse, Hangen, Brustlin Inc. of Bedford to do the work.

The aldermen appropriated $30,000 for a study to find ways to reduce the parkway’s cost. VHB returned with two options.

One option, at a total cost of $57 million to $66.4 million, depending on 2011 interest rate estimates, would follow roughly the same path as the 2007 proposal, routing most of the traffic to West Hollis and Kinsley streets on the southern end.

Option two costs $52 million to $60.5 million and offers 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.

According to Steve Williams, NRPC executive director, and Frank O’Callaghan, project engineer with VHB Inc., both options cut costs from the 2007 concept by:

eliminating a 14-foot median between the two lanes of traffic;

reducing a bike/pedestrian sidewalk along the roadway;

shortening the Nashua River bridge from 1,100-feet to about 400 feet;

pulling much of the roadway out of a railroad right-of-way, which the narrower width allowed.

Pared from a four-lane to two-lane road in 2003, the concept of the parkway has been around for decades.

LaRose once noted that talk of building a second downtown bridge had been discussed while he was in high school in the 1950s.

Debates about the parkway often have glossed over the road’s potential impact on the Tree Streets neighborhood, one of the poorer but most culturally diverse parts of Nashua and, for that matter, the state.

During the Sept. 16 budget review committee meeting, Clemons raised that issue. If the city, rather than the state, managed the project, chances were better that the Tree Streets neighborhood wouldn’t be damaged beyond recognition, Clemons said.

Some residents fear the parkway would have the most negative impact on the inner-city residents who live there.

As part of a series in 2007, a public meeting was held at Millette Manor on Vine Street. City VISTA workers made residents aware of the meeting by going door-to-door handing out pamphlets in both English and Spanish.

“It wasn’t as well-attended as we had expected considering this was an area that would be negatively impacted,” Dookran said.

One possible reason, Dookran said, is that absentee landlords own many of the Tree Streets properties.

Under option one, Pine Street would carry traffic north to the parkway, while Palm Street would carry traffic south to West Hollis and Kinsley streets. Both streets would become one-way.

Option two would empty traffic onto Central Street. That option is preferred because it would free up more land in the Millyard for development while costing less, Dookran said.

Meanwhile, last month Dookran announced he had located $900,000 more in federal money for the project than originally anticipated.