Norton On Real Estate: Transportation system is New Hampshire’s backbone

The governor and Executive Council have approved highway toll increases projected to raise an additional $24 million annually. The Legislature is examining different gas tax increases. Whatever number is chosen, the money raised will be used for maintenance and preservation of existing roads and bridges. Very little money will be available for improvements, expansions or new roads. For the most part, what we see is what we are going to have for the foreseeable future.

The transportation network, essentially roads, is the backbone of our state economy. This is true for trucks and freight, commuters, tourists and the rest of us going about our daily chores. We hear demands that we must drive less, but our suburban patterns of development have forced us into a driving pattern. There is no quick fix. All of us cannot move downtown, even if we wanted to. More concentration and density will come slowly, and only after a painful process of revamping our zoning regulations.

No one likes change, but this is not optional. The shortage of petroleum becomes more acute every day. Russia now produces more oil monthly than Saudi Arabia, but China and many other developing countries, including Eastern Europe, are buying cars and demanding their fair share of this diminishing resource.

While we can gain some efficiency with smaller, lighter, more fuel-efficient vehicles, we will only make real progress when we learn to drive fewer miles. This will be especially challenging for younger couples who have purchased affordable houses out to the suburbs and exurbs.

The fact is we have been building a predominantly suburban life, enforced by rigid zoning codes, separating uses so we cannot walk from home to work or to shop or to church. We are fast approaching the point of not just talk but enacting real changes that will allow our existing neighborhoods to host more residents and mixed uses.

We will need to build more urban schools, more attractive parks and usable neighborhoods. Like the state Department of Transportation that will focus on maintenance of our existing roads, the rest of us must focus on enhancing our existing neighborhoods as a real alternative to sprawl.

I was recently scheduled to go to the Community Technical Assistance Program conference put on by DOT for representatives of the 26 cities and towns that have been identified as most likely to incur population and job impacts from the proposed Interstate 93 Salem-to-Manchester upgrades. Even though the project has been delayed and is being scaled back significantly, area towns are concerned about the growth pressures the highway improvements can induce. About 100 people from 26 towns attended, which began at 8:30 a.m.

My 18-year-old son Tim also had to go to Manchester Saturday morning, but at 9:30. I would be done at noon while Tim would not be finished until 12:45. We discussed it and even though Tim would have to start an hour early and I would have to stay an hour longer, we agreed to car pool. Now this is one day out of six. It is a start, but we will have to do a lot more than rely on voluntary car-pooling to significantly impact traffic congestion, air quality and the cost of transportation for families.

The Concord region is forming a Transportation Management Assoc-iation, including city, state, regional planning, area providers, medium and larger employers. The goal is to weave a more useful transit system of public buses and private vans. We will report more on this later.

Bill Norton, president of Norton Asset Management, is a Counselor of Real Estate (CRE) and a Fellow of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (FRICS). He can be reached at