Three-lane Loudon Road could become reality in 2014
With the help of a federal grant, Loudon Road could be reduced from four lanes to three by the end of 2014.
The concept is not new; it was controversial when suggested by consultants in a 2001 study. But with federal funds now available to cover 90 percent of the nearly $1.6 million project, the plan is back. If approved by the city council early next year, City Engineer Ed Roberge said construction could begin next summer.
Reducing Loudon Road to three lanes between its intersections with Airport Road and D’Amante Drive would increase safety along a road where drivers now frequently rear-end one another or get into sideswiping accidents while changing lanes, Roberge said.
“Just a whole array of issues that are related to multiple lanes like that – aggressive speed, aggressive drivers,” he said. “By reducing the lanes and introducing somewhat safer sight distances (and) safer driving lines, there’s a calmness. . . . We hope that it slows traffic down, not to the point that it diminishes a significant amount of capacity, but it makes it safer.”
Councilor Candace Bouchard, whose Ward 9 borders Loudon Road, said traffic modeling from the city’s engineering department shows that “traffic actually moves more smoothly” on the three-lane road, and that the new design would reduce the number of accidents. But the council still needs to decide whether to move forward with project, she said.
“From what I’ve seen from the three lanes, I do support it,” Bouchard said. “But . . . I hope anybody that’s interested in the Loudon Road reconfiguration will come to the public hearing and voice their concerns, because what the neighbors and the businesses think is most important.”
A $1.44 million federal grant through the Highway Safety Improvement Program, which targets the most dangerous roads in each state, was approved by Gov. Maggie Hassan and the Executive Council earlier this month for the Loudon Road redesign.
City engineers will hold a public meeting about the plans in December. The project will likely go before the city council for a public hearing and vote in February, Roberge said.
Though the federal grant is available, the project is not final until the city council’s approval. That vote would appropriate funds for the project and authorize City Manager Tom Aspell to enter into an agreement with the state and federal governments for the remaining portion. A federal grant from the Highway Safety Improvement Program will cover 90 percent of the nearly $1.6 million project, and the city government will cover the remaining 10 percent, or roughly $155,000, in bonds.
In Ward 8, which also borders Loudon Road, Councilor Dick Patten would like to hear from constituents before forming an opinion about the three-lane proposal. But “it’s worth something to look into” the plan, he said in an interview last week, because there are currently too many accidents.
Patten is facing two challengers in the Nov. 5 city election. Dennis Soucy told the Monitor this month that he supports the three-lane plan. Gail Matson said she was not familiar with the proposal, but would be interested in efforts to relieve congestion on Loudon Road.
There are more than 100 accidents along Loudon Road each year, according to a letter that state Department of Transportation Commissioner Christopher Clement wrote to Hassan and the Executive Council. (The state’s data only includes accidents with injuries or more than $1,000 in damage.)
“Both the motorist and the pedestrian feel unsafe on Loudon Road, and the cyclist clearly has no place there at all,” stated the city’s 2001 study, completed by a private consultant.
The three-lane proposal resurfaced last year, when the city learned that federal funding could be available for the project. Roberge said it was put on hold until 2014 while the city completed a water main replacement project along Loudon Road. (The second phase of that project is under way this fall.)
While formal designs would not begin until after a city council vote, Roberge said the three-lane plan would not include changes at major intersections. The intersections of Loudon Road with East Side Drive and Airport Road, for example, would still have multiple lanes and function like they do today.
Three-lane designs have worked on Manchester Street and North State Street, Roberge said.
Roberge said the lane reduction plan would allow space for cyclists, and offer more space between driveways and the travel lanes, making it easier to turn in and out of businesses along the road.
“I have an adage that a four-lane road is really dictated by the aggressive driver,” he said, while speeds along a three-lane road are set by the prudent drivers.
The design would not increase congestion, Roberge said, but it would guarantee a safer road. Interstate 393 and the extension of Regional Drive also relieve congestion from Loudon Road, Roberge said, as noted in the 2001 study.
“We think that the focus on making the Heights and that Loudon Road corridor a much more livable corridor really has to rely on . . . safety,” he said.
Bouchard, the Ward 9 councilor, said she hopes the project could also include beautification along Loudon Road.