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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)

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 mdoyle@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)

Let's see, according to our politicians, if we do nothing with Loudon Road, the city will have to find one million to repave and fix it BUT if we reduce the lanes and put in a bike path the city only has to come up with $160,000. That my friends, is why the city council voted for this dumb project. 5 million cars travel a year on this road according to the traffic engineers and we get 100 accidents of all kinds per year. What is that .00001 percent! Not bad, yet for some reason we have a serious safety problem. Apparently none of the councilors live or work on the heights or they would experience the parking lot traffic we get on weekends, commuting times and the Christmas period. Yet they decide that removing a travel lane adding a bike path will improve the situation. Councilor Bouchard says everyone should avoid Loudon road by using 393 & Regional drive. Well, I am sure her business constituents on the Heights appreciate her support! Now with the new 3 lanes proposed, you haven't reduced the traffic volume and with bus stops making their stops in the single travel lane you want a bike path. Politicians never cease to amaze me in there complete lack of communion sense. At least I know the Councilors "at large" in our wards on the heights that should not get our votes in the next election.

Calculator says .002%. But either way, yes it's a small percent. I'm curous whether the council published how much that 1M rehab would have raised the tax rate? Is there a case to be made for penny-wise and pound-foolish? I see pros and cons to the proposal. Traffic will no longer have to stop behind people who are trying to turn left. However, it will probably slow down behind people who have to slow down to turn right. I guess I prefer slightly slower over all to stop and start because of people stopping in traffic to turn. I also know that 1 of the 2 accidents I've had on Loudon Road was directly attributable to the 4-lane traffic pattern, and would not have happened under the proposed patter.

Agree that, come election time, we all should vote in Councilors who actually listen to their constituents. And yes, the bus issue is a big one. Everyone, on the bus or not, will have to stop at each bus stop - no way to pass the bus. Of course, the Mall is marginal with its empty stores. This could put them out of business with a huge loss of revenue to the city.

It's too bad alot of you failed to show up for public testimony last night at the city council meeting. Majority of the people who spoke were bicyclists. The city councilors who did speak all said they were in favorite of this project as it would improve safety on the road. That was their overriding reason. I can't wait to see the numbers down the road. I see more accidents happening with those left turns onto Loudon or speeders using that middle turn lane to pass slow pokes. You just know that middle lane is going to be used for passing. Better add more police (ha) up on the Heights.

Would it matter? Do you seriously think the city council listens to what people think?

I know that "can't" never "did" anything. So, it doesn't hurt to try. However I do agree with you that Councilor Bouchard didn't listen to what her constituents said on December 18,2013. She made that loud and clear at the council meeting on Feb 10, 2014 when she pushed YES for this miserable project.

Reducing the number of lanes of traffic both on the Heights and Main Street has major flaws We were told that building 393 would result in traffic being diverted from the Heights and with the completion of Regional Drive also results in similar traffic diversion. Yes, we did see diversion of thru traffic on 393 and some traffic to the industrial area of Regional Drive. However, I When l find myself when on Loudon Rd coming from the Mall during peak travel times the traffic is backed up to Allard Street and further during the Holiday Seasons. I suggest that this change will result in even result in longer delays waiting to proceed down Loudon Rd. Why don't the City Planners first look restructuring the flow of traffic? Perhaps extending Canterbury Rd to Regional Drive providing additional outlet for traffic. Restricting traffic from side street when entering Loudon Road to right turns unless signals are provided. Restricting entry to side streets unless signals are present. Provide additional crosswalks with signals. As to bicyclists on Loudon Road even with the 5 ft lanes they will be in just as dangers situation as they are now. Besides the majority of bicyclists I have observed are young and if I were a parent, I would not want my child anywhere near that road. With or without the change. As long as the City allow commercial development of this area traffic will not be reduced, but continue to increase. The only advantage to this project as I see it is the grant for DOT for repaving and new bright shiny lines.

Thank you Councilor Bouchard for your leadership in the city council meeting. You attended the public hearing meeting and didn't say a word at it. Yet you heard about 90% of your constituents at that meeting give reason to oppose the change. Then you waltz in halfway through the city council meeting last night to announce you're for the project. I know who I'm not voting for in the 9th district next election. It's time for her to retire anyway. We'll have to clean up her mess when she's gone.

"Young kids want to... walk and ride and take the bus and not have to buy a car" - THAT is the most ridiculous statement I've read in a long time. Take a poll of Concord JR.HS & HS students and see how many don't want to buy a car!

The trend by young people to not get their licenses or buy a car is real. Take a look at this article, which begins "Auto makers are worried about the Millennials. They just don't seem to care about owning a car." http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/03/why-dont-young-americans-buy-cars/255001/. Here's another, more recent: http://www.digitaltrends.com/cars/5-reasons-young-people-are-not-buying-cars-or-getting-their-drivers-license/

Reality will set in eventually. They'll hopefully figure out they can't spend most of their time playing video games or chatting with friends via text or Facebook. That means getting a job - and traveling to & from. The quote did say "buy" a car- meaning with money. No offense teens, but one simply can't say where their life will be a few years after school.

Bicyclists 1, Motorists 00000000

Wow. This is what happens when you put a bunch of do-gooder idealists in charge. They try to please everyone, and end up ruining it for everybody. Two travel lanes for 20,000 cars, but bicyclists and pedestrians will be more comfortable. I know I feel relieved. I wonder how many cyclists will be hit by bad drivers using the bike lanes to get around blue hairs doing twenty and bottle necking traffic from Red Apple to Hazen Drive? Not that it matters much, people riding bikes on Loudon Rd are deranged anyway. If I had a business on this road, I would be raging right now. But then again, I might just consider a move to Manchester street, as that is where all the traffic will overflow anyway. Good luck getting on the highway at exit 13....

This is a good way to get rid of all the traffic on Loudon Rd. I feel sorry for the businesses though.

Just remember Councilors, once the toothpaste is out of the tube theres no putting it back...

Farwell Heights! It was nice knowing you.

Regardless of how many consultants and planners say otherwise, all I envision coming of this is the creation of something along the lines of trying to drive through North Conway. Gridlock along the Rte. 16 outlet strip, and those avoiding it by using side roads driving too fast within those neighborhoods. Plus the fact that I too object to State (or Federal) money used for a project that has nothing to do with need.

Your Rt 16 is a perfect example. One person goes slow and it backs up even more. Normally one adds more lanes to maintain the continuous flow of traffic. Concord feels the way to do it (downtown and Loudon Rd) is less lanes and more congestion. The real reason is so Concord does not have to pay for the upkeep of Concord roads.

I was for raising more taxes to help the poor road conditions in NH. Now I am against a single dollar more for the DOT. To cry it needs money for 250 red listed bridges and roads and then give Concord $1.4 Million to rebuild a road because they want to paint new lines on it is wrong.

Jim, you nailed it!

ostensibly the great planners say it will make Loudon Rd safer. I can't wait to see the reduced numbers. All I know is if you think Loudon is backed up now wait , just wait. I can't wait for the holiday backup. How many city councilors drive on Loudon Rd or try to make a left turn onto Loudon from a business or side street. I doubt very many at all.

I should think that making a left turn on to Loudon road would be easier (or at least safer) with only one lane of traffic to cross. You could also cross that one lane to the center lane, and sit until there's an opening to merge. Or is that not legal for a center lane?

democrats have massive dictatorial control in Concord - did you really expect anything less?

just wondering where these geniuses think the federal money comes from? Do this project because we only have to pay $160,000???? An unprotected center lane for left turns? Bicyclists??? Really I really don't see many bicyclists using these lanes unless they want to end up on the other side of town on a stretcher @ CH's ER! This just oozes with safety...LOL! Poor planning resulting in over building without secondary or "backdoor" travel. You had your chance to make this area safe when it was built from pristine land and you blew it then and messing it up even more now!

I-393 and Regional drive may parallel Loudon road, but don't really effectively connect to it. So either all the existing traffic will try to squeeze into 2 lanes instead of 4 congesting the raod, or drivers will give up and not patronize the businesses along the road. Which one is the goal? While I normally support the idea of a safe bike lane, this one scream danger to me. Curb cuts for every business and cars aggressively needing to pull in, out, and through a lane of busy traffic produce unending chances for bicycle and car to meet . Someone will not be looking for a biker, so why encourage bicycles into this mess.

They had better put money aside to put it back to 4 lanes once they find out their hair brained "computer model" doesn't work in real time.. Lets see how many contractors bid on this job and I am sure those that do bud will be way over the estimates that the "Experts" predict.. Leave it alone. You have 4 lanes now and traffic doesn't move, why in anybody's mind do they think two travel lanes will work any better. We need to hire people with common sense, not computer models. Trust the Government? Just ask any Taxpayer

The way Aspell explained it last night in the city council meeting is if it epically fails (backs up all the time) then "we" just lift the stripes off the road and put the 4 lane stripes back down. He's happy getting Loudon Rd milled and paved with the million plus from NHDOT and that Concord only has to shell out over one hundred grand.

The city engineers tried to show a computer model at the city council meeting last night. It was like watching cartoons. Instead of showing comptuer models they should be driving on Loudon Rd along with the city councilors to see for themselves the congestion. 2 lanes will make it worse, much worse.

Were they smoking anything, at last night's meeting?

Have the city engineers test there theory. Cone the road with the new design and run it for a month determine if it holds true. You don't need to do the whole road, just the intersection of Canterbury and Loudon Road at one end and Hazen Drive and Loudon at the other end. Several hundred yards each.

I think something like that is a great idea. I don't know how long the cones would last though. Even for a few hours such as at rush hour might prove the congestion point. ...and show the citizens what they have to look forward to.

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