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November 20. 2013 2:21AM

Nashua mulls path to a better commute

NASHUA — Most residents in southern New Hampshire have sat in traffic along the F.E. Everett Turnpike, experienced gridlock on Route 101 in Bedford or idled through traffic standstills at Liberty Hill.

There are many ideas to correct some of the problems, including future proposals for a new Merrimack River crossing, a new Exit 36 south off-ramp and a new roadway in Hudson between Routes 3A and 111. While these are all legitimate projects that could potentially alleviate some of the problematic traffic patterns in the area, they all require significant funds, according to traffic experts who are trying to gain feedback from area citizens about the state's transportation needs.
"Most people think traffic is getting worse over time," said Tim Roache, assistant director of the Nashua Regional Planning Commission.

This week, officials from the NRPC hosted a transportation workshop with local leaders and Nashua residents to determine where the community would invest scarce transportation dollars if it had the choice.

Each participant was given fake money to invest in various transportation projects they believe should be a priority in the area.

"That is a lot of pressure," said Mayor Donnalee Lozeau, who participated in the exercise with other city employees including Tom Galligani, economic development director, and Steve Dookran, city engineer.

Roache said the need for transportation funds far exceeds the resources currently available. It is important to understand whether local officials and local residents would rather invest transportation dollars in building new roads and bridges, fixing existing road infrastructure, creating more regional transit, developing pedestrian and bicycle facilities or bringing commuter rail service to the region.

A lot of input has been gathered so far, according to Roache, who believes there is a general consensus that people would like to see commuter rail return to the area. Transportation for elderly and disabled individuals is a constant concern that is repeatedly aired during similar workshops, he added.

Getting across the Merrimack River is another issue often heard by traffic experts. Included in the state's Long Range Metropolitan Transportation Plan is a proposal to build a third bridge over the Merrimack River connecting the communities of Hudson, Litchfield, Merrimack and Nashua. The estimated cost is about $185 million and is tentatively planned for 2033-2038.

While this may seem like a pie-in-the-sky idea, Roache said it is critical to gauge the importance of these future projects, and determine whether residents consider them worthwhile.

"Having a north bridge, likely in Merrimack, would be very helpful," said Lozeau.

While most agreed with the mayor's comment, a representative from the New Hampshire Department of Transportation warned that a north crossing over the Merrimack River could have significant impacts to traffic on Route 3A.

"That could dump a lot of traffic there," said Nancy Spaulding, preliminary design engineer with the Bureau of Highway Design.Lozeau reminded those in attendance of the future Broad Street Parkway now under construction in Nashua, which will ultimately provide another crossing over the Nashua River and improve downtown traffic flow.
She also mentioned a proposal to construct a roundabout at the intersection where East Hollis and Canal Streets meet Bridge Street in Nashua, a preliminary concept that she believes would alleviate traffic congestion along that corridor.

Traffic gridlock on Route 101 and Route 101A is also a major problem that many residents in southern New Hampshire would like to see remedied, according to Roache, adding there are repeated pleas for more bike lanes and sidewalks in the area.

Participants in Monday's workshop allocated most of their imaginary investment funds — 27 percent — to maintaining existing roads and bridges, with 21 percent allocated toward inter-city bus and rail, 19 percent to support and expand public transit, 18 percent for pedestrian and bike infrastructure and 15 percent to build new roads and bridges.

"The current Long Range Metropolitan Transportation Plan for the Nashua region is heavily weighted towards building new roads and bridges," said Julie Chizmas of the NRPC. She noted, however, that the least amount of imaginary money was invested in this option during Monday's workshop and has also been low on the list at other recent workshops.

The NRPC will use the newest public input to develop a "balanced blueprint for transportation systems and services that meet the mobility needs of the Greater Nashua region," said Chizmas.khoughton@newstote.com


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