Concord City Council votes to reduce Loudon Road to three lanes
Traffic engineer Rob Mack points to a part of the aerial photograph of Loudon Road during a presentation at a public hearing on Wednesday, December 18, 2013 about the project that would reduce the road from a four lane (as seen on top) to a three lane (simulated on the bottom.) Mack and Concord city engineer Ed Roberge showed plans and presented the project to over 50 residents that attended the meeting. (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor file)
Loudon Road will be converted to three lanes from four.
The Concord City Council last night unanimously voted for a proposal to revamp one of the city’s busiest streets. That proposal does not include any plan to add another connecting road through the Heights neighborhoods.
The new road will have a single lane of traffic in each direction, a center turning lane and 5-foot-wide shoulders on each side for bicyclists. The city has touted the design as a safer option for drivers, bikers and pedestrians.
Councilors Gail Matson and Candace Bouchard, who represent Wards 8 and 9 on the Heights, respectively, threw their weight behind the project.
Before last night’s meeting, Matson said she supported the project because the city will only have to foot 10 percent of the bill to redo the road. A grant from the state Department of Transportation will cover $1.44 million of the cost because the changes are supposed to make the road safer. The city will pay $160,000 to reconfigure the lanes.
If the council had voted the project down, Concord would have still needed to find about $1 million to repave and improve the existing four lanes.
“The majority of people think that something should be done,” Matson said. “They’re looking for some kind of change. It’s just the decision about what that is. We’re faced with either (accepting) the federal money and trying to make it work, or finding the money for it.”
Bouchard arrived at the meeting after some of the public testimony, but she expressed support for the plan as well. Neighboring roads can help divert traffic from Loudon Road, she said.
“This road is a failing road,” Bouchard said. “We have other corridors. We have Interstate 393, we have Regional Drive, that other drivers can use to avoid Loudon Road.”
City Engineer Ed Roberge presented the council with diagrams of the proposed lane configuration and a computer model of how traffic would flow on the new road.
He pointed to the ways a pedestrian or a biker would be safer on a new lane, arguing fewer lanes of traffic and wider shoulders would be an improvement for those travelers.
“It’s simply not comfortable to use the Loudon Road to ride bikes,” Roberge said.
Roberge also pointed to the ways he believes a center turn lane would help drivers avoid rear-ending or side-swiping other cars that slow or stop in the left lane of traffic to make a turn. About 20,000 vehicles travel each day on Loudon Road, he said. Based on federal data, city engineers have estimated the number of accidents on Loudon Road could decrease by as much as 25 to 29 percent.
“This is a project that has a great opportunity for reducing crashes,” Roberge said.
Opponents of the project have said shrinking the road will only make traffic worse on an already busy street, and those critics were vocal during a public hearing on the project in December. Gloria-Jean Leighton, a resident of the Heights, echoed those arguments at last night’s meeting.
Leighton expressed concern that the volume of traffic on the four-lane road could not be safely condensed into three lanes.
“I think that there’s too much traffic to have that work,” she said.
While the actual width of the road will not change, Roberge had told the council the city might have to pay back the $1.44 million grant if they return the road to four lanes – and Leighton asked Mayor Jim Bouley and the rest to remember that the project is not easily reversible.
“Do you like the way it is today?” Bouley asked her.
“I’ve learned to live with it. . . . If you change it and it creates a nightmare, I’m stuck with it,” Leighton said.
Some councilors, such as Dan St. Hilaire of Ward 10, chimed in with the project’s opponents during discussion.
“I see failure at the intersections right now, and I see failure in the future,” St. Hilaire said.
But many of those who spoke at last night’s meeting were in favor of the project, including Tim Blagdon. Blagdon, executive director of the Bike-Walk Alliance of NH, said adding wider shoulders for bike traffic to one of Concord’s major roads will be a benefit to current residents – and to young people who could move to the city in the future.
“This is where the world is going,” he said. “The young kids want to get out there and walk and ride and take the bus and not have to buy a car.”
Darlene Chamberlain, who said she lives on the Heights and works on D’Amante Drive, told the council she wants Loudon Road to be safer for handicapped travelers, in addition to drivers like herself.
“I am for the grant for the corridor improvements,” Chamberlain said. “Being rear-ended does matter to me. I’m not a big fan of possibly getting whiplashed by getting hit in the back when I attempt to make a left turn.”
The city has been discussing alternatives for Loudon Road since 2001, and Bouchard said the plan that has been approved is “very worthy.”
“We’ve been studying this for years, and I think it’s time to move forward,” she said.
Construction is scheduled to begin in 2015.
(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)