Time to get serious about transportation alternatives

August arrived with hot, hazy and humid weather. The blueberries were great, the tomatoes are bulging on the vines. The corn – well, not a great year for corn. While the spring floods are behind us, road repairs are ongoing. And despite the cost of oil and labor, asphalt repaving projects are everywhere. Like it or not, we are mostly a suburban and rural state, and therefore we rely on roads to get us to and from home, work, play, school, shopping — you name it. We also need good roads to deliver and receive our goods and services. Truck traffic, called freight in transportationese, is projected to grow much faster than either jobs or the general population.

State Department of Transportation Commissioner Carol Murray convened a Long Range Business Transportation Planning Committee nearly two years ago. The Community Advisory Committee was co-chaired by Lew Feldstein of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation and Executive Councilor Ray Burton.

The Community Advisory Committee was a very diverse group of 24. I was the representative for the real estate and development sectors. (Take a minute and visit the Web site nhtranplan.com and peruse the final report. There are a dozen key findings and five immediate project recommendations.)

Given the incredible cost of road projects it is important to insure that there is a real plan and strategy supporting the mega-investment in these infrastructure upgrades. The days of paving our way out of congestion are over. We need to focus on the demand side of the equation because we simply no longer have the money, the land or the political will to keep expanding our roads. We need to tackle the single-occupant vehicle (SOV, not SUV. Of course the SOV SUV is the worst combination!)

It is time to get serious about developing alternatives. These include significant improvements to the more than 30 municipal and regional public transit systems as well as ride share and improved Park ‘N Ride options and my favorite, the “pooling of vans.” This is not van-pooling, but an idea being championed by Easter Seals to pool the many vans and rubber-tired vehicles of dozens of public, private and not-for-profit social service providers. If the local transit service suddenly had 30, 40 or 50 vehicles it can offer truly convenient timely and affordable rides. Only with a serious and reliable system will we give up our SOVs or use them less.

The opportunities are immense and several pilots will be launched over the next year or so. Look for announcements and give them serious consideration.

Shrinking funds

Because my work takes me all over the state, I am not a regular transit prospect but I do sometimes take the Trailways bus from my home in Concord to my office in Manchester. I also car-pool or ride-share from time to time (especially when my car is in the shop). I almost always take the bus to Boston when I go down for arbitration hearings.

On Wednesday, Oct. 25, from 7:30 to 11:30 a.m., the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce will hold its sixth annual Regional Infrastructure Summit at the Center of New Hampshire. Save the date. Details will follow.

The federal source of megabucks for large infrastructure projects is shrinking, so we will have to find other ways to provide mobility for ourselves and for delivering our freight. Transportation planning and land use are inextricably linked. They are the backbone of our built environment and landscape. They drive our economic vitality and competitiveness. And they cost lots of money (a precious resource). Come out and attend one of the many public meetings scheduled this fall because it is our future landscape that is at stake.

Bill Norton, president of Norton Asset Management, is a Counselor of Real Estate (CRE), a Fellow of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (FRICS) and a member of the board of The Initiative for a 20/20 Vision for Concord. He can be reached at wbn@nortonnewengland.com.

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