The approach that many of our city councilors are now using to respond to residents’ concerns about Langley Phase 3 is to cavalierly dismiss those by telling their constituents that they have a flawed understanding based on misinformation. How could any one who is well informed possibly think that the City is planning on moving forward with Langley Phase 3?
Perhaps people think this because it is exactly what the City Manager said in his annual State of the City speech. As reported by the Monitor, in March 2022 City Manager Tom Aspell said the following: “The City Council will soon begin discussing phase three of Improvements to Langley Parkway near Concord Hospital. Plans for a round about and bypass have been in the works for years, but a recent Concord Fire Department study of response times and a proposal for new housing development by Brady Sullivan at the former Lincoln Financial site have added new urgency to the project. That project could cost between 17 and 18 million.” This is a direct quote. The City Manager did not say that the Council would start negotiating with developers regarding the lower portion of Phase 3 because developers wanted to move forward with building on those sites. No. What he said was that the Council would soon begin discussing phase 3 of Langley because a new urgency was presented due to response times for ambulances and developer interests. That’s what he said.
The City Manager’s statement that the Council would soon begin discussing moving forward with Phase 3 elicited strong community opposition. This opposition should not have come as a surprise to the council or city officials. When the City held public hearings in the fall of 2013 to present a conceptual plan for Phase 3, over two hundred residents attended and overwhelmingly opposed the project. At the first of those meetings on October 11, 2013, the Mayor downplayed the importance of constructing Phase 3, stating,”I can only speak for myself, but I can tell you that when I look at the list of priorities, the things that need to be done in the city, this doesn't even register.” On November 17, 2013, city residents filled the City Council Chambers to communicate these same concerns and opposition directly to the City Council.
Faced with overwhelming negative public response to the conceptual design study and the project as a whole, the City forged ahead with the project and its consultant completed the feasibility study for the project in 2015. In the first few pages of the study, it says that the plan is for City staff “to present this report to the City Council in early 2015 at which time the Council will determine how to proceed with the project. The next phase of design and environmental study will include a robust public participation process.” Since 2015, the City has not held a single public hearing on this project nor has it elicited any public comment on the project. What the City has done is to keep funding in CIP 40 to serve as a placeholder for building Langley Phase 3 should the City somehow or other find another source of money from either the hospital or the federal government to make the project inexpensive enough to build.
In its 2019, the city attempted to move Langley Phase 3 forward by funding further design work costing $700,000. The City appropriated $350,000 for design work, and made the appropriation contingent upon receiving a 50% match, presumably from Concord Hospital. Apparently in 2019 Concord Hospital did not think the project was worth even $350,000 and failed to match the City’s funding. As a result, that appropriation lapsed. Despite statements made by city councilors and officials, the City has no agreement with Concord Hospital for funding this project. As of now, the City bears the cost of fully funding the project.
Some of the councilors and the Mayor are now telling the opponents of Langley is that they just don’t understand the complexities of the budgeting process and that CIP 40 is simply a placeholder for constructing Langley 3 if or when Concord Hospital or the federal government gives the City money for construction. As one councilor put it, “And I think we need to keep the horse in front of the cart. I think it's more a matter of when the hospital wants to pony up the 50% rather than when the city wants to build Phase III-A."
It is confusing, but not because budgeting is too hard for most people to understand. The reason it is confusing is because of the mixed messages and lack of communication coming from city councilors, the Mayor and city officials. The City Manager tells us that there is “new urgency” for moving forward because of ambulance response times. The Mayor says that there’s no need to worry because Langley Phase 3 will never be built. Councilors say that the opponents are relying on misinformation and have a flawed understanding of the project if they think that there is any urgency at all to it. They dismiss your concerns and say the important thing is keep the horse (the money) in front of the cart (the project). No money from somewhere else, then no project. Money from somewhere else, then project gets built. This is exactly why CIP 40 must be removed from the budget.
The City appears to believe that kicking the money can endlessly down the road while keeping the Langley project alive is cost free. That is not the case. The City wants the Lincoln Financial and Irving Oil sites developed and the developers of those properties cannot do that while the City is holding them hostage to the Langley Parkway alignment. City officials and councilors don’t dismiss the developers’ concerns and tell them they are misinformed. What they plan on doing with the developers is working with them to establish an infrastructure that works for them. This may mean that the fundamental design of Langley Parkway, a limited access ring road, goes by the boards.
Unfortunately, the City appears to have little or no concern for residents whose properties are being held hostage to Langley Phase 3. In response to the residents, the City says it can’t possibly get rid of CIP 40 because it needs it to plan for the future. Keeping CIP 40 in the budget is not responsible planning. Responsible government requires looking at the facts, evaluating options for addressing those facts, and getting rid of options that are misconceived or have outlived their usefulness. Good planning is not keeping a project in the budget, calling the project urgent, and then kicking it down the road until the City finds someone else to pay for it.
There is ONLY one reason and one reason ONLY for keeping CIP 40 in the budget and that is to build Langley Phase 3. If a councilor tells you you are misinformed because there is no money in this year’s budget, ask that councilor why he or she supports constructing Langley Phase 3 and why its construction is important to the City. What City needs does it address? And then ask, if it is truly important to the City, why is the timing of its construction determined by Concord Hospital or another third party?
Put Langley out of its misery and kill it once and for all.