Norton on Real Estate
There is no question that traffic has increased in New Hampshire. More people mean more cars because north of Metro Boston there are few public transit alternatives. Concord CAT carried 100,000 riders last year, and Advance Transit in the Upper Valley carried more than 780,000. Manchester’s transit system had 390,000 passengers, Nashua’s 310,000, the Seacoast’s 210,000 and Laconia’s 40,000. Even so, there are a lot of cars out there, which in turn creates a lot of sprawl. To quote Bill Burtis, communications manager for the University of New Hampshire Climate Education Initiative Working Group:
“Many of us know one answer to this problem is public transportation. Why don’t we do this? There are many reasons, but perhaps the most important one is, we can’t. Why? Sprawl. Public transportation doesn’t work well when everybody is spread out all over the place. If the problem is not going to get worse, we will have to begin the process of reversing sprawl, start kind of curling back into ourselves. We need meaningful, consensus-driven growth ordinances that promote density amidst open space, a living form where space is used thoroughly and well, promoting ‘infill’ housing, downtown shopping, ‘walkable’ communities, where people quite literally ‘come together’ — where they can be picked up at the stop or the station.”
We hear lots of discussion about rail, light rail and transit, especially connecting Nashua to Lowell and Boston or along the I-93 corridor. No question that is where we should be, but how we get there, and who will pay for it, is a different matter.
I currently serve on the New Hampshire Department of Transportation’s Long Range Business Plan Advisory Board. This is a joint effort of DOT and the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation to rethink the current 10-year transportation planning process.
The fact that the current 10-year plan is a 14-year plan tells us it is barely keeping up with the demand side of the equation. Again, funding is the Achilles’ heel of the entire process. Regardless, this effort seeks to step back and consider alternative ways to actually plan our transportation infrastructure.
In the words of Transportation Commissioner Carol Murray, the transportation system is the board upon which our economic vitality is played. Another metaphor is that the transportation system is the skeleton upon which the muscle and tissue of economic health and quality of life are built.
We no longer have just a highway department. Today DOT addresses mobility — walking, biking, autos, trucks, buses, trains and planes. It is none too early to look hard at the current system and how it can be improved as we face rising energy costs and a weakening dollar.
Plenty of cooks
The Long Range Business Plan Committee, in conjunction with Wilbur Smith and Associates, published a white paper that, while still a draft, is quite thought-provoking, and its demographic analysis is very good. I truly encourage you to get a copy and read it at your leisure.
Part of the process has been to hold public meetings with each of the state’s nine regional planning commissions. I attended a handful of these, and it confirmed my belief that the New Hampshire economy is composed of three tiers/zones: the Southern (formerly Golden) triangle, essentially Nashua to Manchester/Concord and east to the Seacoast; a middle tier that wraps north and east from Keene and Cheshire County through the Lakes Region; and the third tier is the North Country.
Each is distinct from the other in terms of population growth, job formation or loss, age and demographics, as well as which industries and sectors drive their regional economics and livelihood.
So just how do we plan our transportation infrastructure with more than 260 principalities, 10 counties, five executive councilor districts, nine or 10 urban hubs and three economic tiers?
This is one of the first issues facing the committee. From my experience, working with a number of client organizations and institutions, I believe the three tiers, with their economic and demographic profiles, provide the best foundation for developing a solid platform for 50 to 100 year planning.
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.