Money is main obstacle as solution to Meredith traffic woes nears consensus

MEREDITH — Improvements Routes 3 and 25, including the junction of the two, to ease the flow of traffic through the center of town could get underway by 2017, according to a schedule presented by officials of the New Hampshire Department of Transportation (DOT) to the Board of Selectmen at a workshop yesterday.

The so-called US3/NH25 project began in 2005 with the aim of moving traffic in "a slow, steady, safe efficient manner," mitigating congestion, while configuring the corridor to accommodate pedestrians and cyclists and promoting the local economy, preserving the natural environment and highlighting the cultural assets of the community. Initially the scope of the project reached some four miles from the junction of Route 3 and Rte. 104 through the intersection Rte. 3 and Rte. 25 and along Rte. 25 to the Center Harbor town line.

Between 2006 and 2009, personnel from DOT, together with an advisory committee of local officials and residents, held 26 meetings and solicited public comment, exploring what Gene McCarthy of McFarland Johnson, a consulting engineer, called "anything and everything that could possibly be considered." In a report, issued in 2009, the myriad of alternatives were winnowed down to a number of preferred options.

Since then, McCarthy explained, for want of sufficient funding the scope of the project has been reduced to the stretch between the junction of Rte. 3 and Rte. 104 to the intersection of Rte. 25 and Pleasant Street, with the US3/NH25 intersection the centerpiece of the project.

"It's a smaller, confined project," he said. The next step will be to select the preferred alternative.

Don Lyford of DOT told the board that the current budget for the project is $5 million, with federal funds representing 80 percent of the total. He said that "the finite amount of funding" would shape the scale of the project.

The report presented four options corresponding to the reduced scope of the project. Three would add a center left-turn to Rte. 3. One would upgrade the traffic signal at Routes 3 and 104 and construct two-lane roundabouts at Routes 3 and 25 and Rte. 25 and Pleasant Street while another would construct single-lane roundabouts at both locations. A third option would include a two-lane roundabout at Routes 3 and 104 as well as at Routes 3 and 24 and Rte. 25 and Pleasant Street. With the fourth option, Rte. 3 would remain a two-lane highway with seven roundabouts — at Rte. 104, Terrace Avenue, Mill Street, Church Landing, Lake Street, Rte. 25 and Pleasant Street.

McCarthy said that while a one-lane roundabout at Routes 3 and 25 could be constructed with minimal impact on surrounding property, a two-lane roundabout would impact all four quadrants, including two buildings on the northern corners of the intersection, but provide greater capacity to ease the bottleneck.

"One lane roundabout doesn't accomplish anything," said selectman Lou Kahn, who questioned if there was enough money in the budget to acquire the necessary land. McCarthy said that apart from reconfiguring the intersection of Routes 3 and 25, the project required little land acquisition. In particular, he said that a third lane could be added to Rte. 3 within the state-owned corridor with only minimal takings.

At the recommendation of the DOT, the Selectboard agreed to convene an advisory committee of nine consisting of the town manager, community development director, a member of the Planning Board, one selectman, representatives of the Greater Meredith Program and Chamber of Commerce and three residents to work with DOT on selecting a final plan by 2014. DOT anticipates the design to be completed by 2016 and construction to begin the following year. Originally the more expansive project was scheduled to begin in 2012.