Updated: May 12, 2022
Part 1 of the Presentation for the 5/11 LP3 Informational Public Meeting:
"Chronology of the Northwest Bypass and Langley & Conclusions" - By Leslie Ludtke
The concept for the road now termed “Langley Parkway” originated in 1954 in the form of the Northwest Bypass. The purpose of the Northwest Bypass was to create a limited access divided highway around northwest Concord that would connect I-89 to I-393.
The 1963 Proposed Alignment for the Northwest Bypass, Concord’s original plan for the Northwest Bypass, shows a four lane divided highway around the northwest side of Concord with a direct interstate connection to I-89 and a close, but separate, connection to I-393. When the Clinton St. interchange was added to I-89, Concord gave up the idea of a direct interchange connection to I-89.
Subsequently in 1984, when the City of Concord (hereinafter City) again looked at building the Northwest Bypass, it rejected the 1963 proposed alignment as excessive and unbuildable. In 1984, the City reduced the scope of the Northwest Bypass from a four lane divided highway with a direct connection to I-89 to a smaller limited access ring road that would facilitate unimpeded traffic flow and bypass the downtown and residential areas of Concord.
Photo Credit to Tony Schinella/Patch (Photo taken from the article: https://patch.com/new-hampshire/concord-nh/is-it-time-to-permanently-shelve-langley-parkway)
At some point before the City submitted its 1991 permit application to construct the Northwest Bypass it divided the Northwest Bypass into three phases: Phase 1, a segment running adjacent to Concord Hospital; Phase 2, a segment connecting Pleasant St. to Clinton St.; and Phase 3, a segment connecting Phase 1 to North State St.
In its 1991 permit application to construct the Northwest Bypass, the City identified the major purpose of the bypass as ameliorating traffic congestion and improving pedestrian safety on existing streets in neighborhoods adjacent to downtown by providing direct access to and from Interstate 89 and Interstate 393. At that time, the Wetland Bureau, the permitting agency, required the City to apply for a permit covering all three phases of the project. In 1993, Wetlands issued a permit to the City to construct the entire Northwest Bypass.
Under the 1993 permit, either the City or Concord Hospital constructed Phase 1 in 1994-1995. Phase 1, as constructed, is a 1,500 foot section north of Pleasant St that runs along the western boundary of the Concord Hospital campus. It functions as the west entrance to Concord Hospital.
The 1993 permit issued for the Northwest Bypass required that the bypass and all phases of the bypass be constructed as limited access arterial roads that would function in a manner consistent with the stated purpose of the Northwest Bypass, that being to provide a limited access ring road around Concord. To prevent secondary development along the corridor of the road, the permit was issued subject to a condition that stated, “the entire bypass shall be constructed and maintained as a controlled access highway with no driveways or intersections along its length, other than possible signalized intersections at Rumford, Penacook, Auburn, Pleasant Streets, Concord Hospital, Hitchcock Clinic, Chubb Life Insurance, or Bishop Brady School.” (Condition No. 8)
Although Phase 1 was permitted as a limited access arterial road and subject to a condition that prohibited secondary development and curb cuts, since completing it Concord Hospital and its affiliated organizations have built numerous buildings with frontage on Phase 1 including, but not limited to, a day care, an elderly care residential facility, a radiology center, an ambulatory surgical center, and a parking garage. The construction of these buildings and the curb cuts associated with them directly conflict the conditions of the 1993 permit and the stated purpose for construction, which was to build a limited access ring road and prevent secondary development along that road. Due to the secondary development and associated pedestrian use of Phase 1, Phase 1 now has a speed limit of 5 mph and cannot function as a limited access road.
The present development of Phase 1 also conflicts directly with Finding No. 10 of the 1993 permit that states, “The construction of the bypass and filling of wetlands is proposed to provide a facility that is a thoroughfare and not a local development road. Its continued viability as a thoroughfare is dependent upon the bypass being constructed and maintained as a controlled access highway with no driveways or intersections along its length, other than the possible signalized intersections identified in Condition 8.”
In 1999, after its final extension, the 1993 permit for the construction of the Northwest Bypass lapsed.
On August 9, 2000, the City signed an agency agreement with St. Paul’s School and Concord Hospital regarding funding of the Phase 2 portion of the Northwest Bypass. Under that agreement, Concord Hospital and St. Paul’s each agreed to pay one third of the projected cost of the road, which were then estimated to be three million dollars. The agreement provided that in exchange for St. Paul’s contribution that the City would formally discontinue use of existing city roads running through St. Paul’s School. The City also agreed that regardless of increases in the cost of the road that St. Paul’s contribution would be limited to one million dollars. With respect to Concord Hospital’s contribution of one million dollars, the City agreed that if the final bid cost for the road was over 15% greater than the projected cost of three million dollars that the agreement would automatically terminate. If the bid cost was 15% or less over the projected three million dollar cost, Concord Hospital could elect either to increase its contribution or terminate the agreement.
On December 21, 2000, the City submitted a Wetlands Permit to construct Phase 2 of the Northwest Bypass. In connection with its permit application, the City described the bypass as a two lane, controlled access road around the northwest side of Concord, and said it had three main purposes. The major purpose was described as the “preservation of the quality of life in old residential neighborhoods and the enhancement of safety for school children and pedestrians.” The two other purposes were to improve access to Concord Hospital, which the City said was “a matter quite literally of life or death,” and to improve access to prominent existing land uses such as Bishop Brady School and Chubb Life, now known as the Lincoln Financial site. In Phase 2, the City claimed that Phase 2 would provide an essential means of secondary access to Concord Hospital, also described as a matter of life or death.
On March 12, 2002, the Department of Environmental Services issued a wetlands and non-site specific permit for the construction of Phase 2. The permit was issued subject to a number of conditions, one of which (condition #7) limited secondary vehicular access to the road to one location, the Hitchcock clinic. This condition was issued to ensure that Phase 2 functioned as a limited access road, with no curb cuts.
In 2008, the City completed construction of Phase 2 and changed the name of the Northwest Bypass to “Langley Parkway.” The cost of Phase 2 as built was eight million dollars, almost three times the projected cost.
After completing Phase 2, the City retained Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc. (VHB) to prepare a conceptual design study of the Langley Phase 3 corridor. The design study would include transportation planning, mainline alignment, intersection options, and environmental considerations. This conceptual design study was completed in 2013 and construction of Phase 3 was programmed for FY 2017-2018.
In the 2013 conceptual study, VHB repeated the same purpose and need statement used for the Northwest Bypass permitting in 1993 and 2001. VHB described the three needs and purposes as: 1) emergency vehicle access to Concord Hospital; 2) improvement of traffic flow and safety in older residential neighborhoods; and 3) enhanced access to employment and service centers.
In the fall of 2013, the City held a series of public meetings to explain the project and elicit public input. At the first of those meetings on October 11, 2013, attended by two hundred or more residents, 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.” The comments of residents attending that meeting were extremely negative and strongly against moving forward with the project. After the series of public meetings were completed, Concord residents filled the City Council Chambers on November 17, 2013 to communicate their concerns and opposition to the project to the City Council. The limited minutes for these meetings fail to capture the strong and overwhelming opposition to the project that was communicated to the City at the public meetings and to the City Council during its meeting.
Despite the overwhelming negative public response to the conceptual design study and the project as a whole, the City continued to work with VHB on a feasibility study to support the construction of the road. VHB completed the feasibility study in 2015.
As stated in the VHB report, the City staff planned “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 about the project. Instead the funding for the construction of the road has simply been carried forward in the City’s capital improvement budget and the date for construction delayed.
The 2015 VHB study estimated construction costs ranging from $13,600,000 with no median on Langley Parkway to $14,300,000 with the median. Similarly, the signal alternative ranges from $14,700,000 with no median on the mainline to $15,400,000 with the median. The cost estimates in the VHB report are based on 2014 pricing and do not include costs related to utility construction or relocation, right-of-way acquisition, mitigation, engineering design fees, legal fees and administrative costs. It is likely this cost estimate updated to 2022 pricing would be in the range of 22 million dollars or more.
The 2015 VHB study again used roughly the same the three reasons originally articulated in the 1993 application for the construction of the Northwest Bypass. It said that Langley Phase 3 should be constructed due to 1) the need for secondary access to Concord Hospital; 2) the need for improving the time it takes an ambulance to reach Concord Hospital; and 3) the need to relieve congestion and improve pedestrian safety in residential neighborhoods.
The recitation of these reasons over more than two decades after they were first used to support the 1993 permit application of the Northwest Bypass, no longer rings true. Conditions have changed in many significant ways.
With regard to the alleged need for secondary access to Concord Hospital, the City made this same claim in the permit application for the construction of Phase 2. In that application, the City said that Phase 2 was required to give Concord Hospital a secondary access point to ensure access in the event of a gas leak or other event required closing Pleasant St., and aid that the Phase 2 road would satisfy Concord Hospital’s need for secondary access. Despite Phase 2 having satisfied Concord Hospital’s need for secondary access, the City now claims that Phase 3 must be built to give Concord Hospital a secondary access point. The indisputable fact is that Concord Hospital has secondary access from Phase 2 and even has a tertiary access point with the existing dirt and gravel road that could accommodate an ambulance in the event of a cataclysmic emergency.
The second purpose and need described in the 2015 VHB report of shortening the time it takes an ambulance to reach the hospital from a call location in the northwest sector of Concord is equally unavailing because it does not take into account the life saving resources provided by ambulances and emergency medical technicians. With ambulances and emergency medical technicians, there is no pressing need for the minimal shortening of the time Langley 3 would provide to the northwest sector of Concord. Life safety emergency response time is the time it takes an ambulance to reach a call location, not the time it takes to travel from the call location to the hospital. Ambulances function as rolling emergency rooms, supplied with emergency medical equipment and staffed by trained medical personnel. There is no reason to spend 22 million dollars to build a road, when purchasing and staffing an ambulance would better serve the stated need for rapid response time. The cost of an ambulance and medical staff are a small fraction of what the road would cost.
Finally, constructing Langley Phase 3 would not provide the congestion relief and improvement of traffic flow projected by the VHB report and the City. The traffic projections in the VHB report are highly inaccurate and do not provide a basis for reasoned decision making. In one map showing an as built traffic flow, VHB shows all the traffic that now uses Auburn Street and other collector roads in the vicinity, using Langley Phase 3a and not existing roads. This assumption is absurd as it assumes that all traffic using Langley Phase 3 is headed to Concord Hospital. Based on existing traffic counts, it is clear that at most only a fraction of the traffic would use Langley Phase 3a.
In the 2019 CIP budget, the City included an appropriation of $350,000 in the budget for design work for Langley Phase 3. The appropriation was made contingent upon the City receiving a 50% contribution from a third party, presumably Concord Hospital. Unlike Phase 2, the City has not entered into a written agreement with Concord Hospital regarding funding for Langley Phase 3. As a result, Concord Hospital elected to not contribute $350,000 for the design costs and the appropriation lapsed.
Because there is no funding agreement concerning Phase 3, as of now Concord taxpayers would be responsible for paying the full construction costs and other associated costs for Phase 3. The estimate of construction costs alone is 22 million dollars or more.
City officials have said that although Langley 3 is a city priority there are no immediate plans to construct it. A city councilor described the city’s position as keeping the horse (the money) before the cart (the project). When the city finds a third party willing to pay a substantial portion of the cost of Langley, the project will move forward.
Most recently, the City has communicated its desire to negotiate with developers of the Lincoln Financial site, the Irving Oil site, and Santander Bank. As of now, the developers have not made any financial commitments to share in the cost of Langley Phase 3. City officials have stated that in the negotiations with the developers the limited access aspect of Langley Phase 3 may be dropped during their negotiations with the developers.
The City continues to maintain funding in CIP 40 for the construction of Phase 3. According to the CIP, the first phase of construction funding for Langley 3 will be in 2023-2024 and the second phase is projected for 2025-2026. CIP 40 is a placeholder for moving forward with construction of Langley 3.
The Northwest Bypass was conceived in 1954 as a four lane divided highway with a full direct interchange to I-89 and a separate, but close connection to I-93. Since 1954 Concord has grown and changed. Residential developments are now located adjacent to the proposed road alignment making it impossible for the road to achieve its original purpose of removing traffic from residential neighborhoods, preventing secondary development along the route, and moving through traffic to non-residential undeveloped areas. If built, Langley Phase 3 would be an inner-city road, would bisect existing neighborhoods, and would promote and serve development in the very downtown neighborhoods the city says will benefit from traffic removal.
The construction of Langley Phase 3 will bring more traffic to residential neighborhoods, including Auburn St. and the North State St., and will significantly impact other established residential neighborhoods, including upper Ridge Road and Samuel St. The traffic data and analysis provided by the City and VHB are inaccurate.
Concord Hospital’s development and use of Langley Phase 1 as a 5 mph hospital driveway and its construction of buildings on both sides of the road is incompatible with using Langley Parkway as a limited access ring road. As presently built, Phase 1 cannot function as a limited access road as described in the 1993 and 2001 permit applications nor can it be altered to allow it to function as a limited access road.
The estimated cost of constructing Langley Phase 3 is now over 22 million dollars. This is a high price for Concord taxpayers to pay for a road that primarily benefits Concord Hospital and developers of land in northwest Concord. Why should the residents of Concord pay 22 million dollars for a road that benefits developers and Concord Hospital when the City cannot articulate a single benefit to city residents? Even were developers or the Hospital to contribute to the cost of the road, the environmental costs and degradation of existing neighborhoods resulting from the road militate against construction.
Phases 1 and 2 of Langley have been built. Phase 1 is Concord Hospital’s west entrance driveway, and Phase 2 functions as a secondary access route for Concord Hospital. Apparently, given the priority of constructing Phase 3, Phase 2 did not have the anticipated salutary impact on traffic congestion projected by the City before it was built.
Ambulance response time is not a reason to build Langley Phase 3. Ambulances are rolling emergency rooms and the critical response time is the time it takes an ambulance to reach a call location, not the time it takes an ambulance to travel from a call location to the hospital. No one’s life depends on building Phase 3.
The proposed alignment for Phase 3 is located within Concord’s trail system and its construction would fragment trails and wildlife habitat and deprive residents, particularly handicapped or disabled residents, of the use and enjoyment of nature.
The construction of Phase 3 is not a Ward 5 issue. It is an issue of concern to all residents of Concord who pay taxes and who value the quality of life in Concord. Langley Phase 3 will degrade Concord’s natural resources at a tremendous cost to taxpayers.
The City has designated the construction of the Northwest Bypass/ Langley Parkway a priority of varying urgency for nearly 70 years. If the need for this project were urgent, it is hard to believe that it would not have been built. As one councilor said, “The horse (the money) should be kept in front of the cart (the project).” That the City has delayed the project for nearly 70 years while searching for someone else to pay for it shows that the project is not urgent.
The reasons the City gives for moving forward with Langley are stated in general terms: neighborhood cut throughs, ambulance response times, and traffic congestion. If there is a specific problem with traffic, the City should articulate it in specific, not generalized terms. That has not happened here. The city cites neighborhood cut through traffic, but does not identify the specific roads of concern or consider options for addressing those concerns. The only option according to the City is to build a 22 million dollar road that may or may not address the actual problem. Similarly, the City has characterized the ambulance response time issue as a “matter of life or death.” If pressed on this issue, the City would be unable to identify a single problem in 70 years attributable to the “life or death” problem of ambulance response time.
Since work on the Northwest Bypass started in 1994, the City has told residents that this new road must be built. The cost of that new road is now estimated at 22 million dollars. When Phase 2 was built, the City estimated that the it would cost 3 million dollars. It cost 8 million dollars to build.
Instead of repeating the same tired reasons used almost 30 years ago to justify building Phases 1 and 2, the City should ask whether in 2022 it still needs a new 22 plus million dollar road to accomplish the three purposes identified for the Northwest Bypass, and subsequently Langley: 1) The preservation of the quality of life in old residential neighborhoods and the enhancement of safety for school children and pedestrians; 2) access to Concord Hospital, (“a matter quite literally of life or death”); and 3) improved access to prominent existing land uses such as Bishop Brady School and Chubb Life.
The answer is clear. It doesn’t. It is not a City priority and should not be so designated in CIP 40.