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Bristol Central Square improvements on Town Meeting agenda

February 25, 2010
BRISTOL — After decades of discussion and debate, voters at this year's annual Bristol Town Meeting will have the opportunity to consider a comprehensive plan for traffic and pedestrian improvements to downtown Central Square.

Pedestrian safety issues and traffic congestion in Central Square have been mentioned as problems in every Bristol Master Plan since 1964. The latest Master Plan (2003) cites traffic and pedestrian safety as one of the biggest challenges to Bristol's economic vitality. A redesign of Central Square is one of the primary recommendations of the current Master Plan.

In September of 2008 the Bristol Planning Board obtained grant funding for a Plan NH Charrette during which community members participated with architects, transportation officials and community planning professionals in the process of arriving at a redesign of the traffic pattern in Central Square. Since that time, the Town has moved forward with efforts to plan improvements at the intersection of Route 104 and Route 3-A and to secure grant funding for the project to improve safety in the busy intersection at the heart of the downtown.

Bristol resident Steve Favorite has worked diligently over the last eight years to move the project forward and has served over the past two years as Bristol's representative on the Lakes Region Planning Transportation Advisory Committee (TAC) to get the project on the NHDOT ten year plan for improvements. He says the stars are aligned to finally get the project off the ground this year with support and recognition from the Regional Planning organization, the state and Grafton County Department of Transportation and the Economic Development Council. In addition, he says that there is a good possibility that state funding opportunities are likely to dry up after this year, making it urgent to get the initiative passed at this year's Town Meeting.

The Select Board, Planning Board and Budget Committee have all approved the proposal for inclusion on the March 13 Town Meeting warrant, which asks voters to raise $99,400 for the Town's 20 percent share of the project with 80 percent of the $497,000 project to be funded through a 2009-2010 New Hampshire Department of Transportation Enhancement grant. A majority vote is required for the warrant article to pass.

The Central Square Transportation Enhancement Concept Plan as it is currently drafted calls for a widening and realignment of Summer Street as it comes into the downtown to increase visibility. It would introduce turning and passing lanes to improve traffic circulation but also improve sidewalks and crosswalks, adding islands for pedestrian safety. It would make North Main Street one way, from the square to Mayhew Street in order to eliminate confusion and congestion coming into the intersection. The object would be to make the area safe for students, the elderly and other pedestrians as well as bicycles and motorized vehicles. In addition, the plan would eliminate Memorial Drive and create an expansion of green space into a Town Common at the war memorials that could serve as a gathering place and focal point for community life.

Favorite says that a number of factors are contributing to increase the focus on Bristol's downtown Central Square as the hub of the community. Funding has been secured through the state Safe Route's to School Program to improve sidewalks and pedestrian safety in Bristol's downtown, especially in the area of Newfound Memorial Middle School. Recent statewide and regional efforts to connect Central New Hampshire through bike routes and recreational trails are also coming together with plans to converge on Bristol's Central Square.

"It is important for us to take advantage of all this momentum," said Favorite. "We don't want Central Square to be left out. Everything comes through the center. It's the heart of the community and without a heart, everything else dies. That has been the problem in Bristol for 45 years. The heart of Bristol has been dying. If we don't work to fix the heart, then nothing else is going to happen."

Martin Lord & Osman
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