At the Derry Town Council meeting on Aug. 19, the Council bit an aging bullet when it signed an agreement authorizing the New Hampshire Department of Transportation (DOT) to manage funding, design and construction of the proposed Exit 4-A interchange.
Acting Town Administrator Larry Budreau prepared a fact sheet on the authorization and provided a letter for the six councilors to sign. Councilor David Fischer was absent.
The town has been dealing with the proposed exit for 30 years and passed a motion in 1997 appropriating $5 million for its share of the interchange off Interstate 93. The motion authorized the treasurer to borrow the amount under the Municipal Finance Act. The town has spent approximately $1.75 million on the environmental impact study (EIS), leaving it on the hook for $3.25 million.
DOT Commissioner Chris Clement attended the July 15 Council meeting to discuss the project and said the state would take responsibility and seek federal and state funding. At that time, Clement emphasized that Derry would not be responsible for any more than its original $5 million commitment.
At the Aug. 5 meeting Chairman Mark Osborne gave a timeline and summary of the project dating back to 1985, and observed that, while Derry had not signed an agreement, it had voiced no objection and it was a matter of honor to proceed.
The project, known in the document as Alternative A, would include the following:
• Construction of a new diamond interchange, which would only receive traffic from, and direct traffic to, the east side of I-93, located approximately one mile from the existing Exit 4.
• Construction of approximately one mile of new connector roadway, traveling across currently undeveloped land to Folsom Road near its intersection with North High Street; and
• Reconstruction and improvements to approximately 1.6 miles of existing roadway, including sections of North High Street, Folsom Road, and Tsienneto Road, as well as sections of Franklin Street Extension, New Hampshire Route 28, Pinkerton Street, the Route 28 Bypass, and New Hampshire Route 102. The improvements are described in detail in another part of the document, but will include, in general, turning lanes, “through” traffic lanes, signals, and minor changes in roadway geometry.
“I support it,” Councilor Phyllis Katsakiores said. “I think it’s something we need.”
She said State Sen. Jim Rausch, R-Derry, had explained the town’s obligation, and that the state and federal programs would pay anything beyond the $5 million.
Councilor Albert Dimmock admitted he had his doubts. “It should be given a time limit,” he said. “When will it be done? But after 30 years let’s get it done, by a deadline.”
Councilor Josh Bourdon said he supported the proposal as long as it was “clear we will not be on the hook for additional money.” Bourdon said it was time for the town to lead and move forward.
Councilor Michael Fairbanks expressed support but also a lingering doubt that “Can we get $5 million worth of benefit for Derry?” The exit will relieve the traffic snarl downtown, he said, but the economic impact isn’t clear.
Councilor Thomas Cardon, who has studied 4-A for years, said the town had three options. “We can kick the can down the road, we can walk away from the whole thing and face litigation, which may be more costly, or we can turn it over to DOT where it belongs,” Cardon said.
Cardon cautioned that the town should make sure its obligation for $5 million and no more is in writing.
Cardon also favored a give-them-enough-rope approach, noting that he thought “this whole project will die under the weight of the excess costs.”
Osborne pointed again to the town’s moral obligation. “It’s not necessarily our favorite project, but we are bound by honor,” he told the Council and audience. “If we were to be sued, the judge would look at the course Derry has taken over 30 years, with Boston North (the original developer), Londonderry and the DOT.” Derry’s lack of objection would be interpreted as support, according to Osborne.
Councilors voted 6-0 to sign the letter, and signed it after the meeting was adjourned.