Audit team recommends changes to Route 28/171 intersection

THE DANGEROUS INTERSECTION at issue, facing east on Route 171 as it connects with Route 28. The main problem concerns Route 28 traffic coming from the left (from Route 16), which has no right turn lane. Cars turning onto Route 28 from Route 16 may also still have their right turn blinkers on, confusing motorists on this side of Route 171. (Mellisa Seamans photo) (click for larger version)
January 09, 2014
OSSIPEE — Selectmen here kept the concern at the top of their agenda and Monday that paid off as they heard a report on what will be done to address safety concerns at a dangerous intersection.

The Route 28-Route 171 intersection has seen an estimated 40 accidents since 2001. N.H. Department of Transportation reports that there were 32 multi-vehicle collisions and one single vehicle crash at this location during the period of February 2002 to January 2012. Although none of these accidents resulted in a fatality, 17 of those crashes resulted in injuries.

Town officials have raised several concerns about what factors contribute to these crashes. A main concern has been that when motorists use their right-turn signal to turn from Route 16 southbound to Route 28 southbound, the turn is not sharp enough to cancel the turn signal automatically. This results in motorists approaching the Route 171 intersection, unaware their turn signals are still on. Motorists waiting at the stop signs to enter Route 28 from 171 mistakenly think those cars are turning and proceed into the intersection, causing often high speed collisions.

Years ago a privately-funded small "check your turn signal" sign was installed near the Route 28 and Route 16 intersection but it is not very visible.

Speed is another factor that officials believe contributes to the severity of the accidents. The posted speed limit drops to 40 miles per hour in the area of the intersection then increases beyond to 55 miles per hour on either side of it. Vehicles tend not to slow down.

According to the report given to Ossipee Selectmen Monday night, sight distance is limited looking north from Route 171 by a "crest vertical curve," a problem further compounded by snow banks in the winter months, and signs placed on the roadside, most commonly during election and yard sales season.

The report indicates that the intersection is also not very visible traveling from the west on Route 171 with large trees and horizontal curvature in the road hiding the stop sign and the flashing beacon.

The stop bars painted on Route 171 are faded and no longer visible. Apparently, funding has been cut for re-striping low volume roads and therefore there is no plan currently to repaint Route 171.

According to state traffic data, Route 28 has an average daily traffic count of 3,400 vehicles traveling northbound and 2,600 vehicles traveling southbound and Route 171 averages about 1,000 cars per day. A lot of the Route 171 traffic results from motorists accessing the county nursing home and other county government offices and the courthouse. Many visitors to the government complex may not be familiar with the area and the dangerous nature of the intersection.

Some modifications have been made over the years but none have really seemed to have made a long-term difference in increasing safety. "Stop Ahead" signs were installed and brush has been cut back in an effort to increase visibility. About 25 years ago the median islands were removed on Route 28 to add left turn lanes, while right turn ramps and a flashing beacon have been in place for many years. Former Ossipee Police Chief and now-selectman Richard Morgan had pushed for installation of a stop light at the intersection but could not win the support of the board of selectmen at the time.

So what is the fix? The audit team that studied the intersection this go-round is recommending a three phase solution set to take place over the next two years.

In the short term, transportation officials will be charged with "researching the possibility" of placing a "check your turn signal" or similar sign in the state right-of-way on Route 28 near the Route 16 intersection. A coordinated effort between state and local transportation officials will keep third party signs from being placed at the intersection. State officials will "investigate" whether they can repaint the stop bars with thermoplastic paint to make the markings more durable and whether or not they can place a stop sign on the Route 171 westbound splitter island. Ossipee Police will continue to enforce speed limits in the area.

The next phase includes state transportation officials evaluating whether or not the intersection needs an upgraded flashing beacon; the possible reconfiguration of Route 28 approaches including building dedicated right-turn lanes for Route 28 traffic and/or reconfigure the existing "pork chop" islands on Route 171 to make the intersection less skewed. Town officials will investigate the possibility of purchasing a speed trailer to enforce speed limits at the intersection.

The audit team looked at two options for the long-term solution. The first is the installation of a roundabout at an estimated construction cost of $1,700,000. The audit team, however, recommends instead the $450,000 estimated cost to install right turn lanes on both sides of Route 28 at the Route 171 intersection.

Selectmen decided at their Jan. 6 meeting to send a letter to N.H. Department of Transportation supporting the audit team's findings and their recommendations.

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