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Options narrowed for Route 12 redesign

Impact on Ct. River a concern

October 01, 2009
CHARLESTOWN — The Charlestown-Walpole Advisory Committee agreed Wednesday night any redesign of Route 12 that has a major impact on the Connecticut River would be difficult to get permits for, and thus was not a reasonable option.

Though it did not come up with a final design, the committee did narrow its options for a preferred alternative for the improvement of roughly three miles of Route 12 between North Walpole and South Charlestown.

Thus far the committee has screened six of the ten proposed alternatives for the Route 12 re-design.

At their July meeting, the group ruled that Alternative 1 —which suggests leaving Route 12 untouched — was definitely an "unreasonable" option.

During its Sept. 30 meeting, the committee successfully screened another four options, declaring three of the four as unreasonable.

As part of the New Hampshire Department of Transportation's Context Sensitive Solutions program, the committee ran each proposed alternative through a complex series of inquiries ranging from the project's safety and cost to its overall environmental affect.

Regardless of which project is chosen, DOT Preliminary Design Engineer C.R. Willeke said that most of the alternatives would call for 12-foot lanes with 4-foot shoulders on both sides of the new road.

Before getting into the actual alternative screenings, Charlestown Town Administrator David Edkins asked for a rough figure on the cost.

Upper Valley Lake Sunapee Regional Planning Commission representative Nate Miller said the alternatives would fall into a projected cost range between $15 million and $20 million. The DOT's current estimated budget for this project is $13.5 million.

Committee member Jan Lambert made a note to the DOT that the Charlestown Conservation Commission's recent publication of a document listing important natural resources should be taken into consideration when determining Route 12's re-design.

"I wanted to emphasize that Meany's Cove is a very sensitive area that needs to be protected," Lambert said. "And the wetlands also need to be considered as important focus areas."

The first option to be screened during Wednesday's meeting was Alternative 2, which looked at the impacts the redesign would have on the Connecticut River if the railroad tracks to the east were left undisturbed.

Overall, the committee gave this option an "unreasonable" classification, primarily due to the foreseeable difficulties in obtaining permits to fill in significant portions of the river.

Committee members also noted a number of other negative impacts that would result from the potential implementation of Alternative 2.

Lambert said the road would lose its classification as a National Scenic Byway because artificially altered riverbanks are not in keeping with the idea of scenic byways.

Member Sharon Francis said that the removal of natural trees and vegetation separating the Connecticut River from Route 12 would reduce the scenic proximity that the road exhibits at the river's edge today.

Member Eugene Augustinowicz disagreed.

"You can't see the river if you've got all that vegetation in there anyhow," Augustinowicz said. "I think you'd have a better view of the river [with option 2] than you do now."

Ultimately, the committee declared Alternative 2 unreasonable. "It's unreasonable because of the level of impact to the river and it'll never fly," Edkins said. "We'll never be able to get a permit."

Next, the committee screened Alternative 3 — which calls for leaving the river undisturbed and moving the railroad tracks further east to allow for a new road — and found it to be a reasonable option.

However, the alternative did get a "poor" rating by the committee due to its potentially negative impact on the railroad's classification as a historic resource and the loss of views of the Connecticut River Valley.

Finally, the committee unanimously determined options 4A, 4B and 4C unreasonable.

These alternatives, which all call for moving Route 12 to the opposite side of the railroad tracks, would incur significant cuts into surrounding hillsides if implemented.

Another critical complaint — concerning options 4A and 4B, specifically — would be the proposed relocation of Route 12 from Church Street to Main Street in North Walpole, a notion that has been overwhelmingly rejected by the community in past discussions.

Wednesday's meeting marked the Project Advisory Committee's tenth since its initial meeting in Oct. 2007.

The committee currently has four other options to screen before arriving at a preferred alternative for the Route 12 re-design.

DOT Project Manager said that either late 2011 or early 2012 would be the earliest that the Route 12 re-design could begin.

The next committee meeting will be Oct. 14 at 6:30 p.m. in the Charlestown Community Room.

Martin Lord & Osman
Varney Smith
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