Town Council Signs Agreement on Exit 4A with Londonderry, State

The Town of Derry has finally signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the Town of Londonderry and the New Hampshire Department of Transportation (DOT) for the construction of the interchange to be known as Exit 4A off Interstate 93.

The agreement, approved by the Town Council at its Dec. 1 meeting, brings the project to its next phase after 30 years of stop-and-start progress.

Michael Fowler, Derry Director of Public Works, and Chris Bean, an engineer with CLD Engineering, presented the project.

Fowler reminded the Council that in July 2014, former DOT Commissioner Christopher Clement confirmed that the DOT is willing to serve as the lead agency for the Exit 4A project. Prior to that, Londonderry and Derry were the project sponsors. Each of the towns committed to $5 million for engineering costs, without any confirmation of construction funds being available.

The project is now in the 10-year highway plan and DOT is responsible for finding $53.5 million for construction. DOT is assuming administrative control for engineering, financing, right-of-way and construction.

Fowler sketched the details of the agreement. Under the MOA, Derry, Londonderry and the DOT are committed to work cooperatively toward completion of the project. The estimated cost is $53.5 million, and Derry and Londonderry are still obligated to $5 million each.

“Each town has received credit for the $1.7 million they’ve already spent,” Fowler said. That leaves Derry’s obligation as $3.3 million.

The two towns are responsible for the engineering and the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

In a public hearing on the agreement, Mark Connors, vice-chair of the town’s Rail Trail Committee, noted that there was no accommodation for the Rail Trail, which is expected to cross land near 4A. “Now is our time to negotiate with the State for the Rail Trail,” Connors said. “I recommend some wording about building an actual crossing.”

He suggested a bridge, an underpass or a marked crossing lane.

He was the only speaker, and Chairman Tom Cardon closed the public hearing.

Cardon asked Bean about fitting the Rail Trail into the plans. Bean said in a public hearing in 2007 that the DOT showed the replacement of an existing pipe culvert and the building of a retaining wall that would accommodate the bikers, walkers and runners on the trail.

“We will find a way to accommodate the trail,” Bean said.

But Councilors were nervous about the trail, and Cardon suggested an amendment “including all Rail Trail accommodations.”

Councilor David Fischer asked, “What exactly does that mean?”

Councilor Richard Tripp suggested wording to the effect of, “Making sure the crossing of the Rail Trail is part of the design.”

Several Councilors pressed for assurance that Derry would only be obligated for the original $5 million. Councilor Joshua Bourdon seized on a section of the agreement that says in essence that, “If the project goes over, the DOT will come back to us.”

That is in Section F, Fowler said, and he reiterated that neither Derry nor Londonderry would be responsible for more than the $5 million each.

There is an “outside possibility” that the project will go over budget, Fowler said, especially if Federal funding dries up. “But this agreement sets you up for the $5 million.”

Bourdon countered, “I don’t know of a project that has ever come in under.”

Councilor Mark Osborne asked, “What does the $5 million buy us? Is it foreseeable that Derry will have to kick in more?”

Fowler responded, “CLD has been working on this for a number of years. The last EIS was produced in 2007. Some of the data is antiquated and needs updating. Some does not.” The project needs input from related agencies such as the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), DES (Department of Environmental Services) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, he said. The updated EIS will be sent to the Federal Highway Administration for a “record of decision,” he said.

Fowler reassured the group that most of the EIS work has been done and that the engineering will not exceed the funding the two towns have committed.

But Tripp referred to Section 2 Subparagraph F of the agreement, that neither Derry nor Londonderry would be asked to contribute more than the $5 million without express written consent.

Fowler said, “Nobody wants a ‘runaway project.’ This language was inserted for the peace of mind of the local communities.”

The Council returned to the Rail Trail issue, with Cardon suggesting an amendment that includes rail trail access from North High Street to the Londonderry line, the unfinished portion of the trail (See related story.)

“What If something changes?” Fischer pressed. “We are mixing two things here.”

A kick-off meeting Dec. 15 will require that both Derry and Londonderry have their agreements in place, Bean said, noting, “We want to get started.”

Londonderry is scheduled to go over the material at its Dec. 7 meeting, Fowler said.

The document in front of the Council is a draft, Fowler added, saying, “You are approving the concept of moving forward.”

The Council voted unanimously to approve the document and to authorize Interim Town Administrator Susan Hickey to sign it.

In its Dec. 7 meeting the Londonderry Town Council also approved the agreement with the state.