August 29, 2012Selectmen held a public hearing with New Hampshire Department of Transportation officials Wednesday, Aug. 22 to discuss upcoming changes to the intersection of Route 11-A with Schoolhouse Hill Road and Belknap Hill Road.
William Oldenburg, with the New Hampshire DOT Highway Design Bureau, outlined his department's findings from a road safety audit of the intersection, and ranked it among the top five percent of the most dangerous intersections in the state.
According to Oldenburg, they recorded 28 accidents at the intersection from 2002 through 2009, resulting in 17 injuries and one fatality in 2010.
Oldenburg said that about 90 percent of the accidents involved more than one vehicle, and most were because motorists turning onto Route 11-A from the side streets could not see far enough down Route 11-A to see oncoming traffic. Because of the short sight distance, Oldenburg said motorists making a turn onto Route 11-A, they may not be able to adequately judge traffic speed or distance required to safely turn onto the road.
According to Oldenburg, accidents were not the result of motorists failing to stop on Schoolhouse Hill Road or Belknap Mountain Road, but misjudging sight distance and getting hit as they turned onto Route 11-A.
"Everyone is stopping and looking, then getting hit," said Oldenburg, "Most of the time, they are not seeing the cars that hit them."
According to Trent Zanes, New Hampshire DOT preliminary design supervisor, the accepted minimum safe sight distance for traffic moving at 30-miles-per-hour is about 400 feet in each direction. Since the speed limit on Route 11-A is 35-miles-per-hour, they said their first priority was to extend the sight distance.
Oldenburg and Zanes said their main goal was primarily to increase motorist safety at the intersection, while maintaining adequate traffic flow and limiting impact to private property and wetlands.
Oldenburg said, as currently planned, there would be no impact to private property, but they would have to modify the slop down to Gunstock Brook, which runs under Belknap Mountain Road, along Route 11-A, so they could move the guard rail back.
Oldenburg said they planed to move back and replace the guard rails and the retaining wall on the Schoolhouse Hill Road side, which he said would increase the sigh distance in both directions for motorists on the side streets.
Oldenburg also pointed out that the new style guard rails are not only stronger than the old style guard rails with wooden posts, but also thinner, and would protrude less into the roadway and line of sight of motorists.
According to Oldenburg, these changes were all to be done within the state road right-of-way.
In addition to the roadside modifications, Oldenburg said they would reshape the road surface on Route 11-A to fill in low spots which have settled over time.
Oldenburg said they would build the roadway up about six to eight inches, mostly through re-paving, to get a more level surface and "get the waives out." He said this would help get traffic on Route 11-A up higher so vehicles would be more visible to motorists on the side streets. They would also move back all telephone poles and drainage catch-basins that would have to be moved back as they replaced the guard rails.
Finally, Oldenburg said they would re-stripe the road surface and add new, more reflective, signs to mark the intersection. He estimated the project would cost about $500,000, paid for using Federal grant funds given to New Hampshire DOT to help improve highway safety.
If approved, Oldenburg said the plan would move on to the final design phase, and construction could begin as soon as Spring 2013.
Oldenburg said another purpose of this public hearing was to get public input on the project and their proposed plans.
Many residents who spoke said they were in favor of installing a traffic light instead of the proposed changes. Residents who were in favor of the traffic light said it would slow traffic on Route 11-A and make the intersection much safer.
Oldenburg said they looked into adding a traffic signal, but found, because of traffic volume on the side streets, a signal was not warranted. He said that motorist speed on Route 11-A was a safety concern, but a traffic light would not necessarily make the intersection safer. According to Oldenburg, a traffic light would not lower the number of traffic accidents, but rather change the type of accidents. He said adding the light would increase the number of rear-end collisions on Route 11-A from cars not stopping in time for the light, and add the safety concern of motorists running a red light.
According to Oldenburg, a traffic light would congest through traffic on Route 11-A.
Zanes added that if they were to install a traffic light, they would have to add left turning lanes on Routd 11-A which would widen the road and impact private property and further impact Gunstock Brook.
"A traffic signal is not warranted," said Oldenburg. "You would most-likely end up with more accidents on 11-A."
Selectman Gus Benavides made it clear that the intersection was under state jurisdiction. He also asked if the cost would be less than the $500,000 to make the proposed changes.
Oldenburg again said the traffic signal was not warranted.
According to Oldenburg, every dollar they spend to increase roadway safety yields about $10 savings from accident damage.
For more information visit the N.H. DOT Web site at nh.gov/dot or call the Concord office at 271-3734.