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Editorial: Loudon Road change is worth a try

The devil drivers know, Loudon Road, has long been causing too much mischief. After two decades of debate, the Concord City Council was right to gamble on a radical change: reducing the four-lane shopping strip road to two lanes plus a center turning lane.

The trepidation expressed by many Heights residents is understandable. The four-lane road from Hazen Drive to Walmart is nearly bumper to bumper at peak travel times. That makes it almost impossible to imagine the new configuration will actually bring the smooth, steady flow of traffic depicted in the engineer’s simulations on the city website. But in the interest of safety, the experiment is justified.

For the large percentage of us who are in a predictable if unnecessary hurry, navigating Loudon Road is a bit like driving a NASCAR race or competing in a boardercross snowboarding event. The key to speed is leaving the right lane when the left is open, anticipating when a driver up the line is going to block the lane by turning left, and cutting back into the right lane when an opening presents itself. The weaving and jockeying causes timid drivers to avoid the road, to the detriment of the businesses that line it. The aggressive and inattentive drivers cause accidents. If they time it wrong, so do motorists who attempt the daunting task of turning left across three lanes of traffic. Making a left turn onto Loudon Road can be so frustrating that many motorists opt to turn right, get into the left lane when they can, and then pull a U-turn using a driveway on the other side of the road. That’s hardly ideal.

Loudon Road, with a traffic count in excess of 20,000 vehicles per day, has one of the highest accident rates of any thoroughfare in New Hampshire. There were 214 crashes in 2011, with 47 of them resulting in injuries. Traffic signals, crossing guards to assist children, and other improvements have made the road a wee bit safer, but it still accounts for one-fifth of the city’s accidents, or about 100 per year. As Candace Bouchard, a councilor representing the Heights has said publicly, the road is failing. Its high accident rate qualified it for a federal Highway Safety Improvement grant that will pay $1.44 million toward the cost of repaving and reconfiguring the road and, when possible, consolidating some driveways. To that, the city will have to add $160,000.

The repaved road will be re-striped to create one travel lane in each direction with a wider central turning lane used by cars going in either direction. A 5-foot shoulder between the travel lane and curb should provide safe passage for cyclists. The drop from four lanes to three, based on similar changes made in other cities, is expected to slow speeds on the roads slightly and result in a 25 percent reduction in the accident rate.

Confidence in computer simulations and consultant estimates of late has been rattled by the giant gulf between the city’s estimate of the cost of the Main Street renovation project and contractor estimates to carry out the work. In the case of Loudon Road, however, the city’s share of the cost is minor and, should the proposed lane changes create traffic jams or otherwise fail to work as expected, the remedy will be relatively cheap and easy. Simply re-stripe the road to make it four lanes again and go back to the drawing board.

Our bet, however, is that the three-lane solution will prove to be a pleasant, and safer, surprise.

Legacy Comments23

Exactly, gdn1. The mall is in financial trouble as it is. A further reduction in the flow of customers could be enough to put it under. Concord can't afford to lose that revenue. And yes, this project is probably designed by the same people who designed that mess between Everett Arena and N. Main St. I drive Loudon Road nearly every day. The only accidents I have ever seen are up by the mall or down by Fort Eddy Road. As mentioned, this is just a plan to get the state to pay for repaving and the hell with the people who actually use the road. The entire city council should be forced to drive down Loudon every day at 4 PM, along with the city manager, when this project is completed. By the way, anyone riding a bicycle on Loudon Road rides on the sidewalk. They will continue to ride on the sidewalk.

Consultants are hired to spread the blame. Who becomes a consultant? Someone who is so inept he or she can't hold a job.

Your editorial today stated that if the Loudon Rd project didn't work out, it would be cheap to just repaint the lanes - that's not what the city council was told at the meeting. Because Federal funds are involved, reverting to the previous configuration would require the city to repay the $1 million+ grant. One questioner asked if the accident rate was reduced because gridlock became so bad that cars were unable to move, would the city be able to go back and the answer was no. Or if business (and the accident rate) drop off because people don't like the new lanes, the city will be stuck with it.

That's exactly what I remember being said too Roy. You're right.

The Monitor's editorial should have quoted Tom Aspell who said they could just restripe the road if it fails. He was the one saying that. And by saying that he swayed the city council who had asked what do we do if it becomes our worst nightmare. The Monitor should have let it be know that Aspell was the impetus for this outcome. He knows that he can get Loudon Road milled and paved with the milion dollar grant. That's what he really cares about. As for Bouchard, she's got all of her ward's interests at heart doesn't she? ha ha.

The state is trying to raise the gas tax because they have no money for roads. Apparently they had an extra $1.44 million - I guess they have plenty of money.

guess who is chairman of the transportation committee for the state of NH. you got it. Candace Bouchard. the city councilor of ward 9 and a state representative. interesting coincidence that she ignored her voters in ward 9 ???? i don't know what to make of that coincidence.

where'd this extra $1.44 million come from anyway ?

I have to politely disagree with the Monitor on this one. Sometimes it's worth taking a chance on change, but there is too much potential downside on this one. The change will force divers to go elsewhere by simple reduction of capacity. Since there is no viable alternative approach to much of the road, businesses will simply see fewer clients. East side drive provides the only real second access to the road and it is clearly also at capacity, and it doesn't even connect to Regional Drive (which is considered a Loudon Rd Alternative). I agree that there are way too many accidents on the road and something needs to be done, but unless true alternative access to the road's businesses is provided, this experiment is going to have a steep cost to them.

EDITORS QUOTE: "fail to work as expected......go back to the drawing board." As this is the stated attitude of the Editorial board then they should also be for scrapping the massive failure aka NObamaKare. What is good for the goose is good for the gander...... unless they are hypocrites.

Figures you would make the rather bizzare association of the Concord city council and Loudon Rd. to the ACA. I doubt you plan on paying for your medical care yourself when you retire (if you're not already retired) and I also know you can't produce a single Medicare recipient who will step forward and give up the coverage they have in favor of going back to the personal responsibility system and free market, for profit management of their health care. The biggest thing wrong with the ACA is that it doesn't go far enough, and this is something the likes of your kind better get used to. Single payer for everyone is coming, wait and see.

Sail's "foundation" tells him and all Republicans to bring up the ACA at every opportunity from now until November no matter what the subject is. Of course that is not a problem for Sail he does it anyway. And it won't hurt to slip in Benghazi and IRS if the opportunity arises.

So, if the predictable happens, as in traffic jams (like we already have) and a "failure to work as expected", lines can be repainted to revert back to the way it was- and eliminate the bicycle lanes? Concord City Council will never admit to a mistake this big, and won't be an indian-giver to bicyclists. Nope, it isn't going to happen. No way. We're stuck with it.

I think you are correct, as I ask that yes, the lines could easily be put back to a 4 lane road if (ahem-when) this new 3 lane road fails. But WILL they put it back? They have not actually said they would, have they?

in the city council meeting when Rob Werner said he had concerns Tom Aspell said it could be restriped if it failed. And the city council all voted yes after hearing that. It was some kind of insurance policy in their minds I suppose to fall back on

Would all those who favor scraping the Main Street and London Road projects and reallocate those monies to complete the Langley parkway and also fix the neighborhood streets in town please raise your right hand.

Me! Me! Me!

no brainer

Right hand raised.

I as well...

OH OH Oh me tooooooo

For decades the traffic issues in Concord have been micromanaged by the city council, using expensive consultants when certain roads or traffic problems have been studied, with predictible results always concluding what the council has pushed as a solution to the issue at hand. Not once has one of these consultants ever suggested something contrary to what the council has set as an agenda to solve the problem. The results of this micro-mismanagement illustrate the fallacy of traffic policy in Concord. None of the traffic lights in Concord are synchronized with the next sets of lights in either direction. Look at the mess of Bridge Street. How many lights stop the flow of dozens of cars to let 1 out in to traffic? The solutions decided upon more often than not lead to more gridlock instead of better traffic flow. Then because people get stressed trying to drive a mile, we need "traffic calming" which to me sounds suspiciously like a catch phrase invented to divert people's attention away from the truth of how mismanaged the traffic flow in Concord is. Topping it all off, the council does not listen to the voters and instead continues to make new errors. Where are 20,000 cars a day going to go instead? I feel sorry for those who live along Pembroke Road, I will pray for the safety of you, your children, and your pets. How many businesses along Loudon Road will go out of business as a direct result of this new design?

Now that gdn1 is a terrific post. You hit all the bases on that one.

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