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Route 28 improvements won't be cheap

Project Advisory Committee hears recommendations for improvements to major north-south corridor

September 01, 2009
CHICHESTER — Seven months of exhaustive field research and intense study by members of the Route 28 Project Advisory Committee (PAC) culminated last week in the presentation of the final report as the committee met for the last time at Chichester's Town Hall.

Formed in February as part of a grant-funded joint venture between the Lakes Region and Central New Hampshire New Hampshire Regional 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 safety conditions along the Route 28 corridor.

The LRPC and CNHRPC hope that the final report, which includes recommendations from the engineering firm of Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc. (VHB), will give communities along the corridor leverage in the increasingly competitive fight to secure funding for repairs to the long-neglected state highway.

In an effort to answer questions that arose during the committee's July meeting about where the responsibility lies for installing and maintaining street lights, pavement markings, and signs along a state road, Mike Izard of the LRPC opened the Aug. 27 meeting by inviting Tobey Reynolds of the state Traffic Bureau to clarify the Department of Transportation's (DOT) role.

With regard to traffic signals, Reynolds explained that they are usually requested by towns and installed by the DOT depending on the outcome of a study to determine whether or not they are warranted by the volume of traffic in the area.

Once signals are installed, he added, the DOT typically pays the electric bills.

Describing overhead beacons as a "gray area," Reynolds explained that they have lost some of their effectiveness in the years since they were first introduced.

If a beacon is installed at the intersection of two state highways, the DOT handles the electric bills, he said, adding that in a situation where a town requests a beacon, the DOT pays for the installation and asks the town to cover the cost of electricity.

Street lighting falls under the purview of the Bureau of Highway Maintenance, Reynolds said, adding that while there is no set policy in place for street lights, the procedure tends to follow the same guidelines used for beacons.

Addressing the issue of pavement markings (such as stop lines), Reynolds explained that the DOT does not place them on town roads.

In rare instances where markings are painted at the entrances to town roads during a state project, he added, the town is responsible for future maintenance.

The DOT does install and maintain stop signs at highway intersections, but does not handle any additional signage, he said, adding that the state was responsible at one time for maintaining 'Stop Ahead' signs, but changed its policy within the last 10 years.

Barnstead Selectman and PAC member Dave Kerr commented that the town doesn't own a paint sprayer, and that the cost of hiring an independent contractor to maintain pavement markings can be prohibitive.

Given that scenario, Kerr suggested that it might be worthwhile for the DOT to consider renting out the services of its sprayers.

Reynolds explained that there are currently only three sprayers available throughout the entire state, meaning that the DOT can't even keep up with 70 percent of its own inventory of pavement markings.

Turning to the issue of street name signs, Reynolds explained that the responsibility for maintaining them falls to individual towns.

Asked by Kerr who is responsible for maintaining advance road name panels, Reynolds replied that panels located on state highways are maintained by the DOT.

PAC member Betsy Bosiak of Epsom asked where the responsibility falls for maintaining 'School Bus Stop Ahead' signs.

Reynolds explained that they are the DOT's responsibility, but described them as "a pain" due to the fact that many bus stop signs are out-of-date because nearby homes no longer house school-aged children, or because families moved away without notifying the state.

Asked about passing zones, Reynolds said his bureau takes requests for their removal.

Izard noted that VHB recommended the elimination of certain passing zones on Route 28.

King's Grant findings

In response to complaints from residents of the King's Grant elderly housing development in Epsom about the hazardous conditions along that stretch of Route 28, Craig Tufts of the CNHRPC unveiled the findings of a recent safety audit conducted in the area.

The audit team, Tufts said, found that the King's Grant development (which currently houses roughly 100 residents) is accessed through Buck Street Extension, a town-maintained road that turns to the south immediately after intersecting with Route 28, while the access road leading to King's Grant continues straight ahead.

Buck Street Extension, he explained, cannot easily be seen from 28 due to the topography of the area, particularly in the north-bound lane, where drivers often can't tell there is a road there until they are practically on top of it.

At the intersection, Tufts added, the shoulders along the northbound lane are very narrow (only two to three feet wide), and not wide enough to be used as turning lanes.

The southbound lane, on the other hand, has much wider shoulders, giving vehicles enough room for avoidance and recovery maneuvers.

In addition to the uneven shoulders, he said, a passing zone runs through the intersection, increasing the potential that passing vehicles could collide with turning vehicles.

There is also a temporary sign for a dance studio in the southbound lane that completely blocks visibility for drivers approaching from the south and people turning left onto Route 28 from Buck Street, Tufts said, adding that there is a hillcrest to the south and a saddle to the north of the intersection, meaning that drivers turning right out of King's Grant may look south and not see anyone coming, then end up pulling out right into the path of a passing vehicle.

Tufts also noted the presence of other housing developments, such as King's Towne and Meadow Brook, along the same stretch of highway that might be experiencing similar problems.

In order to alleviate some of the issues at King's Grant, Tufts suggested that the state work with the owner of the dance studio toward re-locating the problematic sign; trim back the vegetation just north of the intersection; re-configure or eliminate the passing zone; and evaluate the possibility of installing additional signage warning drivers that the intersection is up ahead.

The recommendations

Robin Bousa, Project Manager for VHB, walked the committee members through her firm's recommendations for improving safety conditions at the "Top 10" priority intersections along the corridor, explaining that VHB had presented three separate proposals for each intersection — short-term, low-cost solutions; mid-term, moderately-priced solutions; and costlier long-term improvements.

Working her way up from the south, Bousa started with the Epsom Traffic Circle, where the mid-term improvements recommended by VHB (priced at roughly $75,000) including the construction of curbing and medians to reduce the widths of driveways giving vehicles access to businesses located off the circle.

While complete closure of those driveways would be the preferred option from a public safety standpoint, Bousa said, it would likely involve expensive negotiations with business owners.

VHB's mid-term recommendations for the circle also involved extending the delta island on the eastern approach in order to discourage drivers from crossing Route 4, and a series of minor geometric modifications in the approaches to the circle designed to reduce speeds during non-peak periods.

Long-term recommendations for the Epsom Circle, which VHB had no cost estimates for, included re-configuring the entire circle into a two-lane roundabout capable of handling higher traffic volumes at lower speeds.

The short-term solutions proposed for the intersection of Main Street and Route 28 in Chichester, priced at just under $10,000, included the addition of roadway lighting, stop bars and centerline striping on Depot Street; removal of the overhanging vegetation on Route 28, particularly on the inside of the southbound entrance to Main Street; replacement of the pedestrian crossing sign at the Main Street intersection with proper signage; alleviating pavement edge drop-off areas with crushed gravel shoulders; and re-orienting the 'Wrong Way' sign so that it faces northbound traffic on Main Street.

The mid-term improvements, with an estimated cost of $75,000, including the construction of curbing and medians across the country store frontage to define two driveway openings off Main Street; narrowing the pavement on the southbound entrance to Main Street and adding a rumble strip to the delta island nose to help slow down traffic coming off Route 28; and the construction of a sidewalk near the elementary school on Main Street.

Bousa explained that the ideal long-term solution for the Main Street intersection, which could carry a price tag of more than $500,000, would involve adding a traffic signal and consolidating all of the Main Street access points into one entrance opposite Depot Street.

That process, she said, would incorporate pedestrian signals, as well as turning lanes on both sides of Route 28.

The long-term improvements could, however, be handled in stages, she added, explaining that the first stage would include adding a right turn lane to Route 28 near Depot Street, with the left turn lane added during the second phase. Signals, she said, could then be installed during the final phase, if needed.

VHB felt that a series of short-term improvements priced at around $20,000 would go a long way toward alleviating concerns at Kelly Corner Road in Chichester, including better management of vegetation, particularly on the inside of the curves; better maintenance of pavement drop-offs at the edge of the highway through the application of crushed gravel shoulders at problem areas; the addition of a stop line and centerline stripes to Kelly Corner Road and Webster Mills Road; repairing of potholes on the Kelly Corner Road apron; the addition of street lights on both approaches; and the possible reconstruction of the Kelly Corner Road approach apron if vehicles continue to bottom out there.

Short-term recommendations for the intersection of Route 28 and Concord Hill Road in Pittsfield included better management of vegetation on the insides of the curves, alleviation of pavement edge drop-offs with crushed gravel shoulders, and the addition of a centerline stripe on Kaime Road at an estimated cost of just under $10,000.

Possible mid-term improvements, priced at upwards of $100,000, would entail raising the Concord Hill Road approach profile to improve sight distance and the ability of vehicles to start from a complete stop, and the addition of curbing on the southeast corner in order to better define the driveway entrances.

The problem of uneven turning lanes at the intersection of Routes 28 and 107 in Pittsfield, Bousa said, could be easily solved by changing the configuration of the left-turn lanes on both sides of Route 28 from a negative offset to a positive one through re-striping at an estimated cost of $10,000.

As a way of addressing issues at the intersection of Routes 28 and 126 in Barnstead short-term, VHB recommended removing the overhead vegetation on the inside of the southbound curve on Route 28; moving distracting signs away from the intersection; and adding intersection warning signs with road names on both sides of Route 28.

Bousa said the short-term recommendations could be completed for under $10,000.

Mid-term improvements for the intersection, priced at around $100,000, would involve constructing a left turn lane on the southbound side of Route 28; re-aligning Wes Locke Road in order to reduce the skewed access from Route 126; and widening the northbound shoulder on Route 28 and formalizing a right turn lane.

Short-term solutions for the intersection of Peacham Road and White Oak Road in Barnstead (identified by the committee as the No. 1 priority in terms of public safety) included removing boulders from the 'clear zones' on Route 28; adding street lights, stop bars and centerline striping on the side streets; and expanding vegetation control on the inside of the northbound curve.

Possible mid-term improvements, with an estimated price tag of $200,000, included improving drainage on the eastern side of Route 28 (including a sub-drain along the edge of the road); rehabilitating the pavement in the northbound lane; and adding a right turn lane on the northbound side of Route 28.

VHB's ideal long-term solution for the Peacham/White Oak intersection, Bousa said, would be a re-alignment and re-profiling of Route 28 in accordance with the 40 mph speed limit favored by town officials; improving the profile of White Oak Road; cutting off access to Yield Road from Route 28, and creating a separate access point from Shore Drive; and investigating the feasibility of profile improvements to Peacham Road once the highway has been re-aligned.

The estimated cost of the long-term improvements, she said, would be around $1.8 million.

To alleviate issues at North Barnstead Road, one of the most problematic intersections studies by the PAC, Bousa proposed a series of short-term improvements, priced at around $10,000, that included removing the drainage headwall from the northbound shoulder; adding roadway lighting, stop bars and centerline striping to the side streets; expanding vegetation control on the inside of the Route 28 curve and on North Road; and upgrading old signs.

The ideal long-term solution, she said, would be a complete reconstruction, re-alignment, and re-profiling of Route 28, including eight- to-10-foot-wide shoulders, which would entail an estimated cost of $750,000.

Short-term recommendations for the intersection of Route 28 and Prospect Mountain Road in Alton (priced by VHB at just under $10,000) included additional lighting; stop bars and centerline striping on both side roads; the removal of overhanging vegetation on the inside of the southbound curve on Route 28; the possible removal of distracting business signs; and the installation of intersection warning signs with road names on both sides of Route 28.

Possible mid-term improvements, priced at around $75,000, included the construction of curbing and medians in order to create defined entrances and exits to roadside businesses.

Ideal long-range improvements, Bousa said, would entail a full depth re-construction and minor re-alignment and re-profiling of Route 28, including four-foot-wide shoulders, at a cost yet to be determined.

At the intersection of Route 28 and Stockbridge Corner Road in Alton, another area of great concern for the committee, the short-term recommendations submitted by VHB included removing a drainage headwall from the 'clear zone' on Route 28; adding lighting, stop bars and centerline striping on the side streets; expanding vegetation control on Route 28; closing off the southern end of the 'cut-through' on Stockbridge Corner Road with a barrier and proper signage; repairing pavement edge drop-offs; upgrading and re-positioning the flashing beacon; and updating and/or installing any missing signage at an estimated cost of just under $30,000.

Potential mid-term improvements, priced by VHB at $50,000, would include making the cut through on the northbound side of Route 28 a one-way road and narrowing it in order to reduce confusion on the part of drivers as to where the highway lies.

VHB also recommended that signs be installed along the northbound lane just before the intersection indicating to drivers that Route 28 curves to the left.

As in the case of all intersections along the northern stretch of Route 28, the ideal long-range solution proposed by VHB would be a $600,000 re-construction, re-alignment, and re-profiling of the highway in accordance with the 50 mph speed limit favored by town officials.

Following Bousa's presentation, an audience member from Epsom asked how soon improvements will be made to the problem intersections.

Noting that repairs to the northern stretch of Route 28, between Alton and Barnstead, were originally budgeted at $14 million, Alton Highway Agent Ken Roberts said that figure has now been scaled back to $1.5 million in 2010 and an additional $3.5 million in 2015.

"You want to know how fast it's going to get done?" he commented, encouraging audience members to get in touch with their state legislators, who have the power to allot appropriate funding to the DOT.

Izard explained that while the safety concerns on Route 28 might be a pressing issue to those who live along the corridor, they are, in fact, not unlike the problems facing a number of communities throughout the state.

With limited funds available and the cost of concrete and other materials continuing to rise, he said, the ability to secure funding comes down to a question of "how vocal are you and what kind of documentation can you supply [to back up your argument]?"

The next step

Izard explained that the committee's report, which he expected to finalize and send to the DOT on Aug. 31, will be presented over the next month to selectmen from all five communities, who will be asked to give the document added weight by signing off on it.

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

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