July 24, 2020BERLIN — Former Executive Councilor Joe Kenney has expressed concerns regarding the expansion of Route 110 in Berlin, and how it could adversely impact the activity at Jericho State Park if the state continues to maintain control of it.
Kenney said, "At the July 6 Berlin City Council meeting, there was a major discussion about the urban compact expansion of Route 110. As I understood it at the time, there was a proposal to extend the urban compact along Route 110 from approximately the Anheuser-Busch building to the entrance of Jericho State Park in Berlin."
Berlin is one of 27 urban compact communities. The idea behind the compact, is to give the City of Berlin more economic development opportunities along that route, and to have local control to further the use of OHRV's.
Two years ago, Kenney met with Berlin Mayor Paul Grenier, along with the Department of Transportation Commissioner, Victoria Sheehan.
Kenney explained, "Hearing feedback after this meeting, it was understood the project needed to be in the state's Ten Year Transportation Improvement Plan for consideration and this process would start again in 2019 through the Governor's Advisory Commission on Intermodal Transportation (GACIT) process."
He added, "To be clear, expansions of urban compacts, or having the state relinquish ownership of a road to a municipality to expand users, is not uncommon. It has been done frequently throughout New Hampshire, often to assist municipalities in meeting their economic development objectives."
The GACIT consists of the five Executive Councilors throughout the state along with the Commissioner of the NH DOT. The initial ten year plan is reviewed by the members where they receive public input as well, with hearings to follow. When the draft is finished, it goes before the Governor for a signature then sent to the House and Senate Transportation Committees to be approved, then back to the Governor's desk.
"To better understand the process, is to better understand why the Route 110 expansion project is not in the Ten Year Transportation Improvement Plan. In 2019, the North Country Council was given $6.1 million by the NHDOT to prioritize projects in the region and they chose two: The Shelburne US 2 Culvert Upgrade for Josh Brook for $2.6 million and the Gorham Route 16 retaining wall and drainage improvements for $3.4 million," said Kenney.
Kenney relayed that the aforementioned projects matched allotted funding for the region.
"The Berlin Rehabilitation/Reconstruction of Route 110 to Jericho Lake Road (roadway added to the City's urban compact) came in at a total of $12.4 million. A great project but no advocacy to move it forward as placeholder in the Ten Year Transportation Improvement Plan. This was done in the case of the Conway By-pass proposal just two years earlier," he added.
"In the past, I had the opportunity as an Executive Councilor to advocate to move up projects such as the Colebrook and Conway downtown projects within the Ten Year Transportation Improvement Plan. Additionally, I pushed forward the idea to revisit the Route 16 Corridor Study Plan as the last plan has now become outdated. In all cases, advocacy is critical, and one needs to work with local and state elected officials and New Hampshire state department leaders to better the North Country," said the former Councilor.
Kenney went on to say, "More recently, I was disappointed to learn of the $15.4 million Congestion Mitigation Air Quality (CMAQ) Grant Round, the District only received 5% of the funding or $630,000 instead of $3 million in projects which is roughly 20% of the funding that should have come in."
Kenney says that the ideal situation for the Route 110 urban compact expansion project would have been for it to be in the Ten Year Transportation Improvement Plan as a placeholder with the opportunity to receive funds once a major federal infrastructure funding bill is passed out of Washington, D.C.
Beyond regular road maintenance along Route 110, the state is unlikely to to rehabilitate the two mile stretch in question because it isn't in the ten year plan.
"For the record, the NHDOT wants to relinquish state roads to municipalities who might be in a better situation to manage and maintain them," he added.
Lastly, Kenney said, "Jericho State Park is a big deal and a big economic driver for Berlin and the Androscoggin Chamber. If the state decides to restrict access to OHRV's from state highway use, there would be no local control and access to the park would be limited. It is something that can be immediately developed which would benefit Berlin greatly."
The new process for the Ten Year Transportation Improvement Plan begins in 2021.