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Cat Path residents will see new speed, weight limits

June 15, 2011
After receiving a citizen petition concerning numerous issues on Cat Path in Gilford, the Board of Selectmen has voted to lower the speed limit and set a weight limit on the narrow, winding road.

Due to an increase of traffic on Cat Path over the years, often used as a short cut to NH Route 11A, residents who reside on the street have requested that the board designate Cat Path as a dead-end road that does not allow through traffic with the use of a physical barrier.

Prior to the public hearing last Wednesday, the board informed the residents that the selectmen cannot legally close the road to the public on their own, and would have to hold a special Town Meeting to pursue this route.

While the board has not agreed to designate Cat Path as a dead-end road or for local traffic only, the speed limit will now be posted at 25 mph, rather than the current 30 mph, which most residents believe is too fast.

A six-ton load limit will also be posted along the street, and additional signs will restrict heavy vehicles, with exception of delivering vehicles and trucks, such as the UPS truck, delivering items to residents on the street.

During the hearing, Director of the Department of Public Works Sheldon Morgan stated that an average of about 1,100 cars pass through Cat Path per day in just one direction, considered a minimum number. For a total of five days, more than 5,799 vehicles reportedly passed through the road.

While the size of vehicles attempting to make their way up and down the road, including tour busses and RV's, is a concern shared by Morgan, winter is the hardest time of year for vehicles to pass through the road, especially the larger vehicles. He said the street was not originally designed to accommodate large vehicles, and that weight is a great concern, since large vehicles put too much pressure on the road.

During the public hearing, Bruce Wright of Cat Path, and a resident for 28 years, said he has seen the activity increase in increments, especially on vacations and big ski days in the winter, where tourists often use the road as a "short cut" to Gunstock.

"We have huge traffic issues, and those numbers recorded recently are far above those actual numbers. There are noise, deterioration, and safety concerns, yet the road still remains unsuitable," said Wright. "The town would not permit the road to be put in the way it is today, if it went through the processes we now have in place."

Instead, Wright said he would like to see Cat Path turned back into a local road for its residents only.

Tom Drouin of Cat Path said he has witnessed numerous accidents on the road, ranging from head on collisions to cars skidding into the old oak tree right by his house.

"I fear for the safety of my family and friends. It's not too much to ask for our children and residents, or even those using the road. We've replaced five mailboxes in the past 13 years we've lived here," said Drouin.

To residents such as Drouin, he said an average of 1,100 recorded cars per day doesn't seem like a shocking number of cars, compared to what he has actually witnessed over the years.

He asked the Selectmen to also consider cutting back the vegetation by the road, which may cause safety concerns of its own.

While the majority of Cat Path residents who signed the petition were in favor of a dead end road, some nearby residents opposed this method, including resident Dan Bono, who frequently uses the road.

"I use the road 12 to 14 times a week on average that's 1,000 miles saved, and by closing off the road, it adds up to a lot of extra miles to cart around. Maybe there are other ways to handle this," said Bono. "I do think that we should restrict traffic to community vehicles and lower the speed limit; 30 mph is too high."

Cat Path resident Corey Lofblad described this as an "emotionally charged" issue, and backed the idea of a closed off road.

"We have children on this road, and this is a serious safety issue. In my opinion, safety always trumps convenience," said Lofblad. "It's overused and too narrow. Do we really want to put all this money into improving the road when we have a state road? There's no real answer, but I feel we should stop the nonsense and just dead end the road at the top."

Present at the hearing was Gilford Fire Chief John Beland, who said he would be concerned with cutting off Cat Path with a physical barrier, since the road is a rural water supply area for the department and requires a significant amount of equipment to access on the road during a fire. Beland said he would like to sit down and discuss different options.

At the end of the meeting, Gilford's Deputy Police Chief, Kevin Keenan, said that according to reports dating back to 2006, 12 accidents have occurred on Cat Path, including car crashes into trees, telephone poles, and head on collisions. Because some vehicles left the scene after hitting mailboxes and skidding off the road, Keenan estimated that the number of accidents is actually higher.

While Keenan agreed it would be a great idea to lower the speed limit, he admitted it would be difficult at times to enforce a local traffic only policy, even with a posted sign.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Selectman Gus Benavides acknowledged the ongoing issue with speed, but reminded the residents that Cat Path is a public road, and for this reason, the board does not plan to close the road at this time.

"I want to be clear that the Board of Selectmen never initiated the proposal to close the road. We would not be opposed to a 25 mph speed limit and restricting the weight limit," said Benavides. "We find it absurd that it is ok for tractor trailers and large vehicles to pass through. We are also aware that a posted 'local traffic only' sign is hard to enforce."

Selectmen Kevin Hayes added that he would like to sit down with several department heads and devise a method for changing the speed limit, manage the vegetation on the street, and establishing a sign committee.

AJ Coleman
Varney Smith
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