We have heard it. A city councilor or official tells us our concerns are misplaced or overblown because CIP-40 is “just a placeholder.” In fact, CIP 40 has been a “placeholder” for Langley Phase 3 for over 30 years, originating in 1989 when the Council adopted Resolution #6036, the Northwest Bypass, which later became Langley Parkway, and is now specific to Langley Parkway. Since 1989, the City has treated CIP-40 as a priority in its budget.
Each year since 1989, the Council has reaffirmed that CIP 40 is a city priority. Apparently, no one on the Council has asked how CIP 40 could still be a priority if the parkway has not been built in the over 30 years since its inclusion in the CIP budget. The time is long overdue for the City to acknowledge that Langley Phase 3 is not a city priority, that building it will not serve a city need, and that it should be eliminated from the CIP budget. No city interest is served by kicking the Langley can endlessly into the future. If there is no need for Langley Phase 3, there is no need for a CIP-40 placeholder to build it. After over 30 years, the Council needs to look at the facts and think about whether Langley phase 3 is a priority, and if it isn’t, to get rid of it.
The simple fact is that the only reason to continue CIP-40 as a “placeholder” is to build Langley Phase 3. By calling it “just a placeholder” city officials diminish the importance of keeping Langley Parkway in the budget and avoid answering the most important question as to whether they believe there is any need to construct Phase 3 of Langley Parkway. Instead of addressing the question of the present need for Langley Phase 3, the question is repeatedly pushed to the future under the guise of responsible government and planning for the future. Who knows, they say, something may come up at some time and the city may need to build Langley Phase 3? We don’t know what it is, but of course, planning for the future is important. That’s why it’s a priority in the CIP budget; the City needs to plan for an unknown future.
For reasons only known to the City, the thinking seems to be that keeping Langley Parkway in reserve for an indeterminate future use at some indeterminate future date is cost free. It’s not. We have more than enough information right now to decide whether there is or will be a need to construct Phase 3 Langley Parkway. There is no reason why the Council can’t make this decision. Here’s a framework for making this decision.
Determine what purpose Langley Phase 3 would serve.
In deciding whether there is a need to build Langley Phase 3, the first consideration is its purpose or purposes. The purpose and need statement filed with the permit applications for Phases 1 and 2, identifies three purposes: 1) relief of traffic congestion and enhancement of pedestrian safety in older, dense residential neighborhoods; 2) enhanced access to major employment and service centers in northwest Concord; and 3) improved access for emergency vehicles to Concord Hospital. Based on information and data that is available, we know that Langley Parkway is not needed to relieve traffic congestion (traffic has declined since 2011), that it in fact will bi-sect some established neighborhoods, and that it will not enhance pedestrian safety (using Concord Hospital’s driveway as a limited access arterial road would not enhance pedestrian safety on the hospital campus). If there are pedestrian safety and traffic issues in certain older neighborhoods, those neighborhoods should be identified specifically and multiple different options for addressing those concerns should be evaluated. We also know that it is not needed to access employment and service centers in northwest Concord (the developers are not interested in a limited access road transecting their properties). Access time to the hospital is no longer an issue because ambulances are rolling intensive care units and the transport time in ambulances is unrelated to mortality. Purchasing and staffing a fourth ambulance for Concord would better address the emergency access issue.
2. Identify the Need for the Project
The second factor to consider is the specific municipal need that would be served by building Langley Phase 3. Why is Langley Phase 3 needed by Concord? What makes the need urgent? If it isn’t needed now, what would be likely to generate a need for it in the future? If the city cannot identify a present municipal need for building Langley Phase 3, the Council should not continue to designate it as city priority, as was done in February 2022. If the City cannot explain why the need is urgent, the City Manager should not tell us it’s an urgent issue as he did in March of this year. When the Council designates it a priority, the Council should be able to explain the purpose of building it and the need that it will serve. Similarly, if it is urgent, the city should be able to explain the urgency. If the City can’t explain the purposes served, the need to construct the road to address the purposes identified, the other options that have been evaluated to meet the purposes identified, and the urgency associated with the purposes and need, then CIP-40 should not be continued as “just a placeholder” to meet an abstract and indeterminate future need that may arise at an indeterminate date in the future. If the City thinks that there will be a real need for it in the future, the City should be able to tell us why that need does not exist today, but will exist in the future.
3. Keeping CIP-40 in the Budget is Not Cost Free
What city officials have told us is they want to negotiate with developers of the properties in northwest concord so that their properties can be put to use. Due to the alignment of Langley Phase 3 shown in the VHB feasibility study a large swath of land on the Lincoln Financial site cannot now be developed. The City says it wants to do is to work with the the developers to establish a transportation infrastructure that will allow them to develop their properties. Some city councilors have said that they don’t want the negotiations constrained by the Langley Parkway, which City documents describe as a 1.6+/- mile two-lane, arterial roadway extending northerly…to the intersection of North State/Boutin/Penacook Streets…that will have limited vehicle access to abutting properties and streets. Removing CIP-40 from the budget would help, not impede, the City’s negotiations.
It is not good governmental planning, nor is it cost free, to keep Langley Phase 3 in the capital budget indefinitely because it might be useful at some point in the future to address an unidentified need. While the City recognizes that keeping Langley in the budget has a cost to developers, it has not recognized there is also a cost to residents.
The costs of Langley uncertainty include the following:
It impacts residential property values. Many residents own property near North State Street, Penacook Road, Auburn Road, Ridge Road, and Samuel St. that will be impacted substantially by Langley Phase 3. Until a build or no build decision is made the value of those properties will continue to be impacted.
It prevents the City from evaluating other smaller and less expensive options to address specific traffic issues. Because Langley is intended to provide a complete solution to traffic congestion in Concord, the City has not undertaken an effort to specifically identify what traffic issues exist and evaluate specific option to address those issues.
It has prevented the City from considering other options for the Winant path, such as a handicapped accessible nature trail.
It has created a situation where the City can apply for grant money and proceed with the construction of Langley Phase 3 without allowing for public hearings on whether Langley Phase 3 should be built. Once grant money is awarded the project is a done deal.
We have enough information to make the decision about whether Phase 3 Langley is needed right now. That decision should be made and not deferred for another year or another decade.
Here are some questions you may want to ask your councilor if he or she tells you that CIP 40 is “just a placeholder.”
Questions for Councilors:
Why do you think that Langley Phase 3 is a priority, given that it has been a priority for 30 years and had not been built.
Do you think there is a present city need for building Langley Phase 3? If so, what is it?
How would Langley Phase 3 meet that need?
If you don’t think there is a present need for Phase 3, what future need do you see for the project?
Have you looked at any traffic data in reaching this conclusion? If so, what did you look at?
What specific traffic problems are you most concerned about?
Have you considered any options, or has any one suggested any options other than building Langley Phase 3 for addressing those traffic issues?
Would you support building Phase 3 without a significant financial contribution from another entity?
What’s the most money the City should contribute to building Phase 3?