The Department of Transportation (DOT) has begun a process of reaching out to residents of Derry and Londonderry for input as they re-look at the creation of Exit 4A off Interstate 93.
The exit would be located in Londonderry but would focus on re– routing commuters through Derry.
A public forum held Tuesday, Sept. 27 at the Derry Municipal Building is the result of the signing of the 10-Year Transportation Plan by Gov. Maggie Hassan in June. Part of this plan includes the long discussed Exit 4A, which will allow commuters to bypass Derry’s Central Business District, a popular cut-through for residents of Derry and surrounding towns.
But this goal would see major changes in Derry, and of high concern for some last week was the likely taking of property by eminent domain to make the bypass work.
But just how Exit 4A will route drivers isn’t set in stone, explained Keith Cota, chief project manager of DOT, and moving forward in the process, the state is looking to get as much information from residents as possible as they weigh the pros and cons of several solutions.
According to the DOT, the most likely project scenario consists of a new diamond interchange on I-93 in Londonderry, approximately one mile north of Exit 4. The interchange would provide access to the east side of I-93. A 1-mile connector roadway would be built on new alignment from the interchange to Folsom Road, near the intersection of North High Street and Madden Road in Derry. Folsom Road, and subsequently Tsienneto Road, would be upgraded, and the intersections would be improved. In total, the Proposed Project corridor from I-93 to the intersection of Tsienneto Road and New Hampshire Route 102 (Chester Road) would be 3.2 miles.
The purpose of the project is to reduce congestion and improve safety along Route 102, from I-93 easterly through downtown Derry, and to promote economic vitality in the Derry and Londonderry area.
The goal is to have a plan in place by next summer to begin a design phase with construction to begin in 2019 and completed by 2022.
DOT is currently working with Derry and Londonderry, in cooperation with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), to advance an updated environmental study for the 4A project.
Both Derry and Londonderry have committed $5 million to the project, a sum that leaders from both towns stated was the cap for their involvement, despite any potential overruns.
It’s a project that has been in the works since 1985, when the Town of Derry suggested it to the State, and while in 2007 plans had been approved to route traffic through Tsienneto Road, because so much time has passed since that decision, Cota explained that it was necessary to re-assess the route and other alternatives pondered then.
Out of 47 possible routes, five were deemed feasible in 2007, and each is again being looked at, along with the potential to do nothing, letting traffic continue through downtown.
The environmental analysis, a Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement or SDEIS, is looking at traffic and transportation, surface and ground water resources, land use and socioeconomics, air quality and noise, threatened and endangered species, wetlands and vernal pools, cultural resources, contaminated properties and indirect effects and cumulative impacts.
Alternative A, the plan that Cota explained is still being leaned toward, would basically see traffic run from a new one-mile connector roadway to Folsom Road, near the intersection of North High Street and Madden Rdoa, and then travel to Tsienneto Road to dump out onto Route 102.
Alternative B, rather than using existing roads, would see a new alignment roadway constructed to connect north of Folsom and Tsienneto with Route 102.
Alternatives C and D would see Exit 4A be constructed further north on I-93, about a mile south of Exit 5. Alternative C would have a new connector road north of Tsienneto to connect to Route 102, while Alternative D would follow New Hampshire Route 28 to the Route 28/Tsienneto intersection, and then upgrade Tsienneto to where it connects with Route 102.
Alternative F would involve the upgrade of 1.7 miles of Route 102 through downtown Derry, largely keeping the status quo.
Community leaders also spoke briefly about the process last week.
Mike Fowler, director of public works in Derry, said the main difference between the current discussion and previous ones is that the DOT is fully behind the project now. Fowler said that as with any project, there is not a 100 percent perfect solution, and he urged people to get involved and ask questions and feel free to visit him with inquiries.
While questions and input from the public spanned a wealth of areas and largely sought more information on the project, some were clear that changes for them were more important than reducing travel times or congestion, or where lights would be placed, as they lived on roads that could see major changes and the taking of property.
Some urged the status quo, but Cota cautioned that such a move was not particularly feasible, as more lanes would be needed for increased traffic flow. He rhetorically asked which side of downtown should be used for another lane of traffic.
While many residents asked for specific details about what each alternative would look like, Cota said the process wasn’t at that point yet, but safety and a host of environmental concerns were being looked at.
“We’re not focused on a solution right now,” said Cota to specific concerns about the safety of Tsienneto Road, but noted it was certainly an integral part of discussions.
The first step is to decide on a route, and then work out the specifics of that route, noted Cota.
There was also significant concern about how the routes would impact the Rockingham Rail Trail, as some of them have it bisecting that popular trail. With the use the trail is seeing, investments that communities have made and goals for expansion, some were concerned that there needed to be some way of crossing over or under any major thoroughfare that would interrupt it.
Concerns about keeping drivers and potential customers in a struggling downtown were also noted. While the traffic will likely reroute people, Cota said he suspected many commuters were already using side streets to bypass the area and that the lack of congestion would bring local business back.
“What I expect is that the diverted traffic will come back on the system,” said Cota.
Last week’s meeting was not the sole public informational meeting on the issue, as at least one more is set to happen once more review on the alternatives has occurred. Plans are to have a final public hearing in the spring of 2017 before final approval is sought from the Federal Highway Administration.
Cota explained that the DOT is also willing to meet with community groups who want an overview.
To learn more about the project, visit i93exit4a.com.