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Paul Feely's City Hall: Persistent potholes add up to serious green for Queen City drivers

By PAUL FEELY
March 04. 2018 12:36AM
James Doherty, center, rakes in hot asphalt as the Manchester Highway Department repairs potholes on Gold Street in Manchester in 2014. (Thomas Roy/Union Leader file photo)
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Hit any potholes around the city lately?

If you haven't, you probably don't drive much. The consistent freeze-thaw cycle of recent weeks, combined with recent rain and snow, has resulted in big chunks of pavement from roads all over the Queen City being washed away.

Even careful drivers going slow are bound to hit a few teeth-rattling holes around Manchester these days. The intersection of Campbell Street and Daniel Webster Highway near Shortys and Hannaford is "amazing," as one driver put it. Same goes for River Road at Webster Street. The problem is magnified at night, when potholes are difficult to see.

These holes can be more than inconvenient, though; they can cause costly damage to your vehicle. Blown-out tires, bent or cracked wheels and even broken suspension parts can result from hitting a pothole hard enough. According to the website www.pothole.info, the national average cost of a car repair from pothole damage is $377.

If you think the number of potholes opening up this year seems unusually high, you aren't alone.

"In my opinion, this has been a more intensive winter for potholes than we've experienced in the recent past," said Tim Clougherty, the city's deputy public works director. "I attribute this to the vast temperature swings we have experienced this year."

Clougherty thinks these temperature swings might be more "cyclical than in the past," but he doesn't have any data yet to prove it.

He said so far the city has spent about $461,000 on potholes and patching since the beginning of November - a 47 percent increase compared to the same period last year.

"Interestingly enough, our snow plowing and salt budget is about 15 percent lower than the same point last year," said Clougherty. "This should give a good indication that potholes are more a result of temperature swings and the freeze-thaw cycle than snowfall. We experience the most significant amount of road damage and potholes in those periods where snow accumulation warrants plowing, but the road surface and ambient temperatures are warming."

According to Clougherty, depending on weather conditions Public Works dispatches five to six patching crews at a time.

"The crews are generally assigned geographic areas," said Clougherty. "They are given lists or work orders in order to address specific complaints that come in. As the weather warms and the ground thaws, this allows us to begin more intensive and more permanent repairs to the roadway system."

Clougherty said pothole complaints come in via phone calls to the department and the city's "Manchester, NH Connect" mobile app, available for download at www.manchesternh.gov/Home/Manchester-NH-Connect.

The app can be used to report potholes and graffiti, trash pickup issues, street light and traffic signal problems, among other issues.

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The aldermanic chambers at City Hall were filled with people last Wednesday, but it wasn't any great controversy that brought out a crowd on a sunny, 60 degree day.

A combination of coloring books and free ice cream was all it took.

Mayor Joyce Craig hosted an ice cream and coloring social at City Hall, part of a full week of Winterfest activities throughout the city.

"What a great idea," said Jonathan Donovan, director of the city's Office of Youth Services. "I think this is the first time we've had the mayor's office participate in Winterfest activities."

The event featured free ice cream - courtesy of the Puritan Backroom - and pictures for participants to color, including the City Hall spires and city seal.

"We all love ice cream, and on a Wednesday in the middle of school vacation week we wanted to open our office and have an opportunity for families to get together for some ice cream and fun," said Craig. "It's been a nice, casual opportunity for people to come in and see City Hall. If you can get kids and families engaged in local government, that's a good thing."

Once completed, kids were allowed to hang their finished works of art on the wall outside the mayor's office. "Alderkid" Zeke Stewart - son of Ward 2 Alderman Will Stewart - hung his masterpiece in front of the Ward 2 seat his father occupies on meeting nights.

At one point, kids were sitting in all 14 ward and at-large seats around the dais in the aldermanic chambers - as well as at the mayor's podium - coloring away, happy as could be.

Craig chuckled at a reporter's suggestion that providing adult coloring books to elected officials might "lighten the mood" at city meetings.

"There was a young boy sitting in the Ward 1 seat coloring, and I said 'I've done that before,'" said Craig. "I've doodled, I admit it."

- - - - - 

During the most recent meeting of the Aldermanic Committee on Lands and Buildings, a request that was tabled last fall from developer Arthur Sullivan to purchase city-owned Plaza Drive - a road that runs between two of his properties - was removed from the table and brought forward for additional discussion.

Plaza Drive is a cut-through connecting Spring and Mechanic streets, with Sullivan-owned properties - Brady Sullivan Plaza and the Hampshire Plaza parking garage - located on both sides. Sullivan wants to purchase Plaza Drive from the city, in an effort to "put this parcel back together," according to his attorney, Marc Pinard.

"Since Brady-Sullivan owns each side of that alley, we are trying to consolidate it," Pinard told committee members. "The same thing happened with Phillippe Cote St. (near UNH-Manchester) and we think there is precedent for taking this private. I understand that the city might do certain things with it but frankly the city hasn't."

According to Pinard, Sullivan proposes adding 40 parking spaces at the site, with the possibility of closing access to the street if future business proposals require it.

"How this all started is, about a year and a half ago I had a major movie theater chain approach us about building a theater downtown," said Sullivan. "The biggest concern is always how do we build something downtown in the central business district and still have parking for almost 1,000 cars that they need? This is a perfect situation. They could build their parking garage on Plaza Drive or a portion of Plaza Drive and hook into the parking garage which is on that non-competing parking requirement that they have; it would have been perfect. In the future, we hope to bring a development such as a movie theater downtown."

Alderman Joseph Kelly Levasseur wondered aloud why the city wouldn't look to place its own parking spots there to generate revenue.

"Are the 40 spaces a temporary thing and then a possible expansion of that garage over them?" asked Levasseur.

"Anything is possible," said Sullivan. "Anything we can do to try and advance parking is something we are always looking at. It is tight and we are out of parking."

"I have no issue with your plan but you are not giving us solid ... if we sell that street, at some point you guys can just close that street down and you don't have to come back and ask for it," said Levasseur. "There is no reverter right for us and there is no easement for at least one lane or one-way to go through. You may decide to close that and build over it and we wouldn't have any authority if we sell it the way you are asking for it."

The matter was tabled until the committee's meeting to allow for additional discussion with city departments about the proposal.

- - - - -

Former assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction Dave Ryan, currently employed as co-superintendent in SAU 53 - including the Allenstown, Chichester, Deerfield, Epsom, and Pembroke school districts - has been named one of two finalists for the superintendent position in Exeter.

Ryan and Esther Asbell, currently an assistant superintendent in Exeter, are finalists for the job left vacant when Michael Morgan died in June 2017. The post is being filled on an interim basis by Dr. Christine Rath, a retired former superintendent of schools from Concord.

Ryan has been a co-superintendent in SAU 53 less than one school year, after taking the job last summer. He served as an assistant superintendent in Manchester from 2013 to 2017, and assistant principal at Manchester High School Central from 2000 to 2006.

Ryan and Asbell will be at Exeter High School on March 7 from 5 to 6 p.m. to meet residents, followed by an interview with the SAU 16 Joint School Board.

Paul Feely is the City Hall reporter for the Union Leader and Sunday News. Reach him at pfeely@unionleader.com.


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