Meeting Held in Derry to Discuss I-93 Exit 4A Project

On Thursday night, May 24, a joint informational meeting between public officials and the public was held to discuss the I-93 Exit 4A Interchange Study, which began back in 1985. During this meeting, five updated build alternatives, the evaluation matrix, and the project schedule were presented, and many questions and concerns were presented by the public.

According to a project fact sheet provided by the New Hampshire Department of Transportation (NHDOT) and CLD|Fuss & O’Neill, a New-England based engineering consulting firm, the purpose of the I-93 Exit 4A Project is to “reduce congestion and improve safety along NH 102, from I-93 easternly through downtown Derry and to promote economic vitality in the Derry/Londonderry area.” NHDOT and CLD|Fuss & O’Neill provided information on traffic conditions during different times of the day to help prove the need for the project, showing that “Traffic is diverting to local road networks to avoid NH 102 backups,” and that “Several Exit 4-area intersections are projected to operate or near capacity in 2040, as well as the Exit 4 southbound off-ramp.”

Several other needs for the project were presented, including “Inadequate interstate access to the east of I-93 for commercial and industrially zoned lands in both Derry and Londonderry,” and the idea that “Heavy through-traffic in downtown Derry inhibits pedestrian appeal and business access.”

After all the needs for the project were assessed, the five alternative build plans for the project – titled Alternatives A, B, C, D, and F – were presented and explained. It was expressed that Alternative A is the preferred direction for the project.

Keith Cota, the NHDOT Project Manager, explained that Alternative A, if it were to be approved, would best meet the purpose of reducing traffic in downtown Derry with its one-mile connector roadway, built on new alignment from the interchange to Folsom Road, near the intersection of North High Street and Madden Road. Folsom Road and Tsienneto Road would be upgraded, and the intersections would be improved to the project terminus at the intersection of Tsienneto Road and NH 102.

Moving forward with alternative Alternative A would result in 25 potential business displacements and 12 potential residential displacements. For comparison, Alternative B would result in 11 potential business relocations and 19 potential residential relocations. In terms of environmental impacts, Alternative A would impact 3.4 total acres of wetlands, while all other alternatives – other than Alternative F – impact over 3.89 acres.

The costs for Alternative A are broken down into two main categories. Since the build would span over 5.30 miles, the construction cost would be $37,000,000, and the cost of transmission line relocation will be $850,000. This is the lowest cost of all alternatives other than Alternative F, which has a $4,300,000 construction cost. The total cost for the project, when all is said and done, is $56,000,000

Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act was discussed as well, as it requires federal agencies to consider effects on historic properties when planning projects with federal involvement. State Historic Preservation Officers, tribes, local governments, local historic preservation groups, local property owners, and others with a demonstrated interest in the project are encouraged to become consulting parties in order to ensure that preservation values are factored into the planning of the project. For more information on becoming a consulting party, contact Marc Laurin at MLaurin@dot.state.nh.us or Jamie Sikora at jamie.sikora@dot.gov.

Looking ahead to the future, a public informational meeting regarding Alternative A is scheduled for July of this year, the Supplemental Draft EIS will be published in early September, and a public hearing will be held in mid-September.

The discussion then moved to public comment, with Derry’s State Representative, Chairman of the Environmental and Agricultural Committee, and member of Derry’s Public Works Department, John O’Connor, asking if the Supplemental Draft EIS would be available online. Christopher Bean, Executive Vice President and Division Leader at CLD|Fuss & O’Neill answered, saying that when it is issued in early September of 2018, it will also be made available online. O’Connor responded, asking how he would be able to see work in progress prior to September. Cota explained that O’Connor could see him with questions about the progress of the project.

O’Connor also asked whether or not the engineers on the project would be working toward rapidly moving forward to avoid delays in the project in the future. Cota responded “yes,” saying that the current timeline will be implemented. The hope is to begin construction by the end of 2019 and complete it by 2022.

Before answering any more questions, Bean wished to make it clear that there is a 14 x 12 ft trail underpass included in Alternative A’s build plan, which would give access to the north side of the rail trail.

Marge Badois, Chair of the Londonderry Conservation Commission, then asked if any of the supporting environmental studies would be made available to the public prior to the public meeting in July. Cota explained that it will be, as soon as the document is reviewed and prepared. He anticipates that it will be posted before the public hearing.

Chris Oliverio of Londonderry spoke next, saying, “It seems like we’re missing a lot of the facts that you read off of your sheet that we weren’t able to read on the screen, that weren’t available on the table, and I’m assuming not available on the website.” Bean responded, saying that everything will be available online.

“By then,” Oliverio continued, “all of the decisions are made. We’re going with A, and the ship has sailed on any other alternatives except for doing nothing.”

Oliverio’s main concerns were that acquisition, design planning, and permitting costs have not yet been factored in. He then questioned what the cost benefit back to the community will be. “I’m trying to understand how leading traffic down 102 will lead to economic vitality. I think the only economic vitality there is the access to Pillsbury Road and the businesses they’re going to build there.”

“As part of the Draft EIS,” Bean said, “there is a full analysis of the socioeconomic impacts, and that will include the overall expected NET increase in employment.

Cota then responded, saying that if they decide to do nothing and leave downtown Derry as it is, by 2040, the traffic will be a parking lot for hours.

Lee Hutchinson of Tsienneto Road in Derry also spoke, expressing her concerns about the visibility and accessibility of Tsienneto, especially during the winter months. “There are two curves with low to no visibility at the top of each hill, as well as down below the null that’s in front of my house,” she said. “You also have a significant grade going from the top of the hill and down to that null. In the wintertime, that road has been closed a number of times. Busses and cars cannot get up that hill, and it should be closed more often.”

“How do you think it’s okay to add thousands more cars to a road that busses and cars can’t get up in the winter?” she asked.

Bean answered her question, explaining that that specific area had already been identified as an area of concern and deficiency. So, as part of the project, part of the dangerous curve will be softened, and sight distance will be improved. At the July meeting, there will be a profile that will show an exact plan for that area.

“As anyone who lives on Tsienneto Road knows,” Hutchinson continued, “you can barely get out of your driveway now. Adding thousands more cars and high-speed commercial trucks is a dangerous safety issue, particularly because we have so many Pinkerton Academy drivers using that road, as well as walking on it.

Cota agreed, saying that her observation is correct. These issues will be addressed during the next phase of Alternative A’s design. “There will be heavier truck traffic,” Cota explained. However, changes to the road will be made so that it is accessible for all vehicles and pedestrians. When the project is completed, Derry will be responsible for the maintenance of the roadway.

Hutchinson continued, saying that according to Alternative A, traffic would be added to six intersections in Derry. “I’m sorry, but adding traffic to six intersections, primarily in Derry, is not a benefit. Increased traffic so that people cannot get out of their driveways is not a benefit. Taking traffic out of downtown and away from struggling businesses is not a benefit. Giving Derry no commercial tax benefit because all of the property lies in Londonderry is not a benefit.” She was met by a round of applause from the public.

Cota went on to express that comments made during the meeting would be taken into consideration going forward when making changes to the project.

Finally, Hutchinson returned to ask who the “legal watchdog” of the project will be as it gets turned over to the NHDOT. Cota responded, saying that taxpayers, elected officials, and the communities themselves are a watchdog. “The commitments that we make as part of the project through our statue requirements require us as a department to fulfill those commitments, and we will be doing that,” he said. The Federal Highway Administration oversees the project and will be making sure that the investment that is being made meets the requirements previously committed to.

To close the meeting, Cota explained that for this meeting, because the project has a regional impact, a regional notification was sent out. However, for the next informational meeting in July, a notice will be given to each property along the Alternative A quarter. After that, all of the abutters along the quarter that will be impacted by the project will receive a certified notice about the public hearing in September.

For those who wish to learn more about the history of the project, view the powerpoint from the May 24 meeting, or leave feedback about the project, visit i93exit4a.com. To watch the full meeting, visit derrytv.viebit.com.

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