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Committee reviews Route 28 safety audit

July 01, 2009
ALTON — Members of the Project Advisory Committee (PAC) charged with spearheading safety improvements along the Route 28 corridor set the wheels in motion last week, providing engineers with a "Top 10" list of problematic intersections as they met to study the results of a recent safety audit on the long-neglected state highway.

Formed in February as part of a grant-funded joint venture between the Lakes Region and Central New Hampshire Planning Commissions (LRPC and CNHRPC, respectively), the PAC (comprised of public officials and volunteers from the towns of Alton, Barnstead, Pittsfield, Chichester and Epsom) was tasked with developing a strategic plan for improving the safety of drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists on Route 28.

The LRPC and CNHRPC hope that having all five communities work together to create a plan will go a long way toward securing state and federal funding for the project.

Introducing the results of the road safety audit to the PAC members who gathered in the Prospect Mountain High School cafeteria last week, Mike Izard, Principal Planner for the LRPC, explained that during the months of April and May, four audit teams were sent out to study the conditions at 17 red-flagged intersections between the Alton Traffic Circle and the Epsom/Allenstown line.

There were a number of "recurring themes" found at nearly all of the problem intersections, he said, including:

-Steep pavement drop-offs at the edge of the road, which he said make recovery difficult for vehicles forced to swerve off the road.

-Inadequate, faded, or missing road signage.

-Lack of adequate illumination.

-The presence of passing zones through intersections.

-Overgrown vegetation that creates sight line issues.

-Poorly maintained guard rails.

Walking the PAC through the audit results from north to south, Izard began with the intersection of Route 28 and Lot Line Road in Alton, where an audit team heard from nearby residents who were concerned about vehicles traveling through at excessive speed due to the fact that Lot Line is sometimes used as part of a "loop" by Prospect Mountain High School's sports teams during practices.

The audit team, Izard said, also determined that a new stop sign was needed at the intersection, as well as an improved warning sign with a supplemental street names plaque, a travel plan for pedestrians and bicyclists, and clearly defined shoulders.

At Stockbridge Corner Road in Alton, he said, audit teams found a number of issues, including missing signage; a pavement edge drop-off on the southbound side of Route 28; right-of-way drop-offs in the southbound lane just before the intersection; a lack of shoulders; the confusing presence of multiple approaches to Route 28 from Stockbridge Corner; a sight line issue for vehicles turning onto Route 28; and a beacon light in need of re-alignment.

The biggest problem at Stockbridge Corner, he said, is the deceptive alignment of Route 28, which often tricks northbound drivers (particularly at night) into thinking they should continue straight onto Stockbridge Corner Road after rounding the bend, when in fact the highway itself curves to the left.

Given the lack of crash data for Stockbridge Corner and other designated intersections, Alton Highway Agent Ken Roberts commented that he personally knew of five fatalities there over the past few years.

At the point where Prospect Mountain Road and Dudley Road intersect with Route 28 in Alton, Izard said audit teams found that the 'Stop Ahead' signs need to be replaced; that intersection warning signs were needed on both sides of 28; that a steep approach from Dudley Road needed to be addressed, as well as sight lines for vehicles turning north from Dudley Road; and that commercial signage at the intersection creates a distraction for drivers traveling on 28.

While observing traffic patterns at the four-way intersection of North Road and North Barnstead Road just over the Barnstead line, Izard said his audit team saw a Georgia couple summering on North Barnstead Road pull onto North Road from the southbound side of 28 and make a U-turn in order to give themselves a better view of northbound traffic instead of risking a left-hand turn at the crest of the hill, where they could not see vehicles approaching in the northbound lane.

The audit team, he said, also found snow storage capacity and snow drifting issues at the North Road/North Barnstead Road intersection, as well as drainage issues; vegetation obstructing the view for vehicles turning north out of North Road; 'Stop Ahead' and 'Stop' signs in need of replacement; and missing pavement markings, such as stop bars.

At the entrance to Colony Drive in Barnstead, where Izard said a number of rear-end crashes have been reported, audit teams found a severe shoulder drop-off; shading issues; vehicles traveling through at excessive speeds; the presence of a passing zone through the intersection; and a lack of adequate illumination at night.

The Peacham Road/White Oak Road intersection in Barnstead presented a wide array of issues, Izard said, including drainage problems on the southwestern side of the intersection; an alignment on the White Oak approach that audit teams deemed too steep; and a dangerous right-hand turn onto Peacham Road from the northbound side of 28 that he said forces drivers to put on their directional blinkers "well in advance" due to the threat of a rear-end collision.

At the Maple Street intersection (where Barnstead Elementary School is located), Izard said, audit teams found that road signs were worn and did not meet current standards; that the guardrail and pavement was in disrepair; that the intersection is skewed at an angle; that there is no sidewalk leading from the school to Route 28, creating a safety hazard for students; and that the crosswalk signs for the school are oriented in the wrong direction.

The Route 126 intersection in Center Barnstead proved problematic, he said, due to the use of the shoulder on the northbound lane as a turning lane onto Route 126; the inappropriate use of the shoulders on the southbound side of 28 by drivers trying to pass vehicles turning left onto Route 126; the lack of a straight approach across 28 to Wes Locke Road; the close proximity of Parade Road to the entrance of Route 126; and the fact that traffic turning left onto Route 126 tends to block the view of vehicles turning right onto the northbound side of 28.

Among the other intersections studied as part of the safety audit were Route 107 in Pittsfield (where vehicles turning left onto 28 experience sight line issues, and a lack of sidewalks has created an ADA compliance issue); Leavitt Road in Pittsfield (designated as one of the most dangerous intersections in the entire corridor due to the volume of accidents reported there, and the presence of a low income housing development nearby); Concord Hill Road, Kelly Corner Road, and Main Street in Chichester; the Epsom Traffic Circle; and Elkins Road, Mill House Road, and Town Line Curve in Epsom.

In light of a phone call the LRPC received from a 90-year-old gentleman whose vehicle was recently struck by another car while turning into the entrance to the King's Town elderly housing development in Epsom, Izard said that intersection has been added to the list, as well.

Describing the audit and upcoming engineering study as an "opportunity to look at safety situations" throughout the corridor and make necessary improvements, Izard stressed that the project was not about finger pointing or laying blame at the state's feet.

"It's about what we can do to make things better," he said, adding that he hoped each of the communities involved would consider applying the safety recommendations for Route 28 to problematic intersections and stretches of road within their own borders.

Prospect Mountain Superintendent Paul Bartolomucci asked how the PAC could work toward expediting the proposed improvements.

Izard explained that the process would entail two steps: first, identifying possible sources of grant funding, and second, developing a prioritized list of short-term, medium-term, and long-term solutions based on the recommendations made by the safety audit teams.

Commending the audit teams for their work, Bartolomucci said his focus was on the 538 Prospect Mountain students who travel the northern stretch of Route 28 five days a week, either in their own vehicles or by bus.

"That's the major concern for me," he said. "I don't sleep well at night because of it."

The Top 10

After reviewing the overall results of the safety audit, Izard presented the PAC with a list of what he said the LRPC and CNHRPC felt were the "top 10" priority intersections based on audit team observations and available accident data.

First on the "Top 10" list (which Izard said was not meant to reflect the importance of any particular location over another, but simply to delineate the most pressing needs) was the White Oak Road/Peacham Road intersection in Barnstead, followed by North Road/North Barnstead Road (Barnstead); Stockbridge Corner Road (Alton); Main Street in Chichester; the Epsom Circle; Prospect Mountain Road/Dudley Road (Alton); Leavitt Road (Pittsfield); Route 107 (Pittsfield); Route 126 (Barnstead); and Maple Street (Barnstead).

Pittsfield Fire Chief and PAC member Gary Johnson suggested that Leavitt Road (which the state Department of Transportation plans to address this fall by installing a signal light) be "swapped out" with either Concord Hill Road or Kelly Corner Road, which he said are much more active areas in terms of accidents.

Izard recommended that the Concord Hill/Kelly Corner area be looked at as a single stretch of road, rather than two separate intersections. The committee agreed with his recommendation, and added it to the list in place of Leavitt Road.

The next step

Highway Engineer Greg Bakos, representing the firm of Vanasse Hangen Brustlin (VHB), selected by the LRPC and CNHRPC to design a safety improvement plan for the Route 28 corridor, explained that the company's role in the project will involve six steps: Reviewing crash data for each of the "Top 10" intersections; interviewing local public safety personnel to "fill in the rest of the picture;" conducting a field review; finalizing recommendations; drafting a technical memorandum by the end of July; and, finally, conducting a public hearing on the final plan in either late July or early August.

The PAC's next meeting has tentatively been scheduled for Thursday, July 30, at an as-yet-undetermined location somewhere along the corridor.

Brendan Berube can be reached at 569-3126 or bberube@salmonpress.com

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