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Consensus on Route 12 redesign reached

An aerial shot taken by the DOTís Preliminary Design Chief Mike Dugas shows Route 12 as it stands today. Future construction will involve moving the road and railroad tracks easterly in the northern and southern ends while widening westerly towards the river in the roadís middle segment. (Courtesy Photo). (click for larger version)
October 15, 2009
CHARLESTOWN — After 11 meetings full of detail, the Charlestown-Walpole committee officially recommended a preferred alternative for the Route 12 redesign at its meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 14.

Out of 10 possible alternatives, the committee finally settled on option 323 — which calls for moving the railroad tracks easterly in the southern and northern ends of the 3-mile section of roadway while leaving the tracks undisturbed in the middle segment and widening westerly towards the Connecticut River.

Throughout the screening process the committee employed a detailed set of criteria that tested each alternative's overall impacts — including concerns such as aesthetics, environmental impact, implementation, safety and quality of life.

While the committee seemed to find a host of complications with almost all of the proposed alternatives, its screening of option 323 appeared to take less time, with minor setbacks along the way.

Most members agreed that reducing the Route 12 re-design's environmental impact of the Connecticut River would make the permitting process significantly easier.

"Not only does [option 323] preserve the river's views, but it also preserves the river itself," said committee member Sharon Francis.

Preliminary Design Engineer C.R. Willeke said option 323, which calls for 12-foot lanes with 4-foot shoulders on either side of the road, would also create a larger buffer zone between Route 12 and the railroad tracks.

"In order to minimize impacts we're also keeping the road flat in the northern end," Willeke said. "Otherwise we'd have to fill in the river more or move the track over more so this is some of the compromising we've done."

Nearly all of 323's screening criteria earned ratings of "good," ultimately qualifying it as the most agreeable alternative in the committee's eyes.

Similar to the other options, Willeke said the cost of the 323 option would fall between $15 million and $20 million.

"Our budget is currently nearly $11 million for this project," Willeke said. He added that phasing the project in over a number of years might yield the funds necessary to make up the rest of the cost.

Town Administrator David Edkins asked if it was possible to define the exact cost of 323 a bit further.

"I would have to spend some more time with the other engineers," Willeke said. "I would still be somewhat guessing at this point, but I don't see a tremendous difference [between the estimated figure]."

Near the end of the meeting, committee member Dick Holmes moved that the committee accept option 323 as its preferred alternative for the Route 12 redesign. Francis seconded the motion and the rest of the committee agreed.

Upper Valley Lake Sunapee Regional Planning Commission representative Nate Miller said the committee did a great job of offering invaluable insights to a project that could not have been pursued as well without them.

"This process has been absolutely successful," Miller said. "We've had no negative feedback so far and people have been excited to be involved with the plan."

DOT Project Manager Don Lyford said the Route 12 re-design's next step will be to hold a public information meeting in early December.

Following that, a public hearing will then be scheduled six or seven months from now.

"In theory, this committee will still be active through the public hearing, but as we move into a final design, people should be thinking about if they want to stay on [the committee]," Lyford said.

Miller thanked the committee again for its thoughtful participation in the selection of a preferred alternative.

"We hope you guys have learned something because we've learned a lot from you," Miller said.

Willeke estimated that the earliest the project could begin would be in 2012. The railroad would be moved easterly during that time with actual road construction beginning in 2015.

The public informational hearing is tentatively scheduled for 6:30 p.m., Dec. 9 at the Fall Mountain Regional High School.

Martin Lord Osman
Varney Smith
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