Route 11A safety improvements may come sooner than expected


March 30, 2011
If all goes accordingly, the New Hampshire Department of Transportation plans to act on proposed improvement plans at the intersection of 11A, Belknap Mountain Road, and Schoolhouse Hill Road a continual site of concern.

During a Board of Selectmen meeting last Wednesday evening, Stuart Thompson, representing NHDOT, shared potential intersection improvement plans with the board.

For the last few months, representatives of the New Hampshire Department of Transportation have toured and observed the site, and are now looking to improve the safety of the intersection, sharing a list of recommendations decided by state engineers.

The area to be surveyed begins at the intersection and includes 1,000 feet east and 500 feet west along Route 11A, 300 feet along Schoolhouse Road, and 200 feet to East Street along Belknap Mountain Road.

Thompson said he understood this particular intersection has been a site of safety concerns for some time now, including a fatality due to a car crash at the intersection last year.

"This intersection is on the top 100 list of dangerous intersections in regards to a significant number of serious injuries or fatal accidents," said Thompson. "We are looking to make this intersection safer. There is a question in regards to pedestrians, and a high number of t-bone crashes at the site."

During a study, it was noted that many drivers were not aware of the approaching intersection, or could not see other cars coming their way due to impaired visibility on the site.

He said that during a speed study, the average speed was calculated at 50 mph or greater, while the speed limit is posted at 35 mph which few drivers seem to follow.

"The Board of Selectmen can accept or not accept the recommendation. If they accept, we will go ahead and start the improvement project," said Thompson.

Main suggestions based on NHDOT's analysis include improvements to the sight distance by downgrading an area of the road, as well as speed enforcement, and the potential implementation of crosswalks for pedestrians.

He stressed that the average driver's speed on the road must be slowed down before installing a crosswalk, since a crosswalk could pose even more danger on a 50 mph road not designed for such speeds in the first place.

Town Administrator Scott Dunn said that while there seems to be a small number of pedestrians crossing the road, kids who live nearby often walk along the intersection before and after school.

Thompson agreed that a sidewalk and crossing protection could help promote safety in after school hours, although the speed limit will first have to be addressed.

Short term suggestions also included keeping vegetation clear, and implementing speed enforcement. Thompson also pointed out a few trees along the map, and while they look nice, he said a couple trees do pose a visibility problem by the four-way intersection, and could also be trimmed or cut back.

Selectman Kevin Hayes said the board would have to take the issue up with the Department of Public Works and the Gilford Police Department before accepting NHDOT's recommendations.

Selectman Gus Benavides also suggested that the board hold a public hearing prior to agreeing to improvement project plans. While residents may not have the last say, Benavides said it is important for the general public to be informed of potential plans, and also for nearby residents along Route 11A to take a stance.

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