The state is proposing a plan to install rumble strips for the first time on Route 125 from Plaistow to Rochester in an attempt to keep drivers more alert and reduce the number of crashes.
The strips of grooved pavement produce a vibrating noise that may annoy some, but state and local officials say they’ve become an effective, low-cost road safety feature since first being installed on Interstate 89 from Bow to Lebanon in 1997.
Lee Police Chief Chester Murch estimates that 80 percent of the major crashes he’s seen on Route 125 are caused by people crossing the center line. He encouraged the state Department of Transportation to include the strips in an upcoming repaving project on Route 125 from Route 152 to the Lee Traffic Circle.
“I honestly think that if we had rumble strips they would stay back in their lane. We could avoid these accidents,” Murch said.
A public informational meeting was held Tuesday in Epping; another will be held in Plaistow on Aug. 28 at 7 p.m. at Plaistow Town Hall to discuss the proposal to add center line and shoulder rumble strips on sections of Route 125.
Plaistow Town Planner Leigh Komornick said the upcoming meeting came up at a town staff meeting and the overall reaction was, “Why?”
“Why and where are they putting the rumble strips as Route 125 through Plaistow is very built-up and congested, so why (and) where do they need them?” she said.
The strips won’t be placed in congested areas or shared center turn lanes into businesses, said Ronald Grandmaison, project manager for the state Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Highway Design. Most of the rumble strips will be put in by the end of next year, he said.
The state budgets $500,000 each year in federal highway safety funds for rumble strip installation on center lines or the shoulders of roadways.
According to Grandmaison, national statistics show center-line rumble strips on rural two-lane roads reduce by 44 percent fatal head-on and other crashes resulting in injury. Centerline rumble strips on urban two-lane roads reduce crashes by 64 percent, according to his figures. Rumble strips on the shoulders of rural two-lane roads lowered crashes by 36 percent, he said.
Grandmaison said the strips also increase the reflectivity of pavement markings when headlights shine on them.
“From my perspective they’re a good thing. While I recognize there could be a potential downside to them, the bottom line is, if you hit it, you’re in a place you’re not supposed to be,” said State Police Lt. Chris Vetter of Troop A in Epping.
All of the state’s interstates and turnpikes now have rumble strips, as well as Route 101 and Route 16 from Rochester to Ossipee.
The locations are chosen based on several criteria, including crash statistics, traffic volume and speed.
The strips on roadway shoulders can pose problems for bicyclists, but they may be happy with the state’s plan to place the strips directly over the white line as part of a pilot project on Route 111 from Hudson to Hampstead. The strips are usually placed 30 inches off the white line.
“Bicycle enthusiasts like the idea of giving them more room on the roadway,” Grandmaison said.
Rumble strips also create the potential for noise for residents living near the highway, but officials said they’re more concerned with safety.
“The safety concerns for me clearly outweigh anything else,” Murch said.
Grandmaison acknowledged the possibility of a rumble strip contributing to an accident by startling a driver, but he said he hasn’t heard of such an experience.
“We always hear about the crashes if there are no rumble strips or the complaints that the rumble strips woke me up, but we never hear the stories that the rumble strips saved my life, or the life of a friend or loved one,” he said.
Brentwood police Sgt. Denny Wood supports rumble strips, but said he has seen crashes occur when a driver hit a strip, became startled, and then quickly turned the wheel, causing the vehicle to roll.
“It’s the typical knee-jerk reaction when it happens. You jerk the wheel,” he said.
Some police officials say rumble strips are a good first step toward improving safety on Route 125 but that more needs to be done. “Rumble strips will help for now. However, they need to widen the road,” Epping Police Chief Michael Wallace said.