MEREDITH — "It may seem slow to some people, but we'll try to speed it up," said Don Lyford of the N.H. Department of Transportation (DOT), speaking Thursday to a committee of local stakeholders that first convened in 2006 to address traffic congestion in the Rte. 3/Rte. 25 corridor. Gene McCarthy of McFarland Johnson, Inc., the project manager, assured the panel "we'll start getting into the meat of the project."
Two-and-a-half hours later the committee found itself at the intersection in question, which the American Automobile Association once ranked the 17th worst bottleneck in the country, with limited funding and awkward choices.
In June 2009, McFarland Johnson prepared a report for the DOT outlining a half-dozen plans for improving the flow of traffic from the junction of Rte. 3 and Rte.104 along Rte. 3 through the intersection of 3 and 25, across Rte. 25 to Center Harbor, a distance of 4.2 miles. However, with only $5 million allocated for the project and the prospect of more funding bleak McCarthy said "it doesn't make sense to be looking at the whole four miles."
Instead, McCarthy told the committee the scope of the project would be narrowed to "the village core," from the 104 and 3 junction to the intersection of Rte. 25 and Pleasant Street and allowed "that may start to shrink."
"You throw the rock in the pond and look at the 99th ripple," remarked Jack Carty, "our problem is the intersection of 3 and 25."
"Well get to 3 and 25," Warren Clark assured him, "but we'll talk about a lot of things to get there."
When Rusty McLear asked "is the money there," Lyford replied "yes and no. I'm not saying you can't find a dime over $5-million."
Lou Kahn, who chairs the committee, sought to force the pace, observing that "we've had experience in this town of finding that the money had moved on when we didn't act fast enough."
Faced with selecting a preferred alternative, the committee quickly rejected two similar options, each consisting of a roundabout at the intersection of 3 and 25 and two other roundabouts — one to the north on Rte. 3 and another at the junction of Rte. 25 and Pleasant Street — which would be joined by two or three-lane bypass roadway crossing Hawkins Brook.
"Keep it simple," said Kahn. "This is not simple." He said that the cost of acquiring land and constructing a road and bridge would far exceed the $5 million budget. "This is DOA," Carty agreed. this is DOA."
Likewise, the committee discarded a plan to turn the corridor into a string of beads with a grassed median strip and one-lane roundabouts at 104 and 3, Terrace Avenue, Mill Street, Church Landing, Lake Street, 3 and 25 and Pleasant Street. John Edgar, director of community development, pointed out that the plan would eliminate left turns, which he said "anywhere in the corridor are a hassle if not a hazard. " Others said that by slowing traffic the plan presented an opportunity to transform Rte. 3 from a highway to a "main street," in keeping with the character of the town center. But, all agreed the cost would be far beyond the available funding.
As Carty and Clark foresaw, discussion returned to the 3 and 25 intersection. McCarthy reminded the committee that congestion could not be eased without reconfiguring the intersection. DOT estimates that northbound traffic on Rte. 3 passes through the intersection at a rate of at least 900 vehicles per hour at peak times in the summer while Rte. 25 carries between 700 and 800 vehicles per hour westbound at the same time.
Three options were presented to the committee — a one-lane roundabout, a two-lane roundabout and an elliptical roundabout open to two-lanes of northbound traffic from Rte. 3 at its southeast corner.
The committee favored a one-lane roundabout, which would have the least impact on the surrounding properties. However, when the flow of traffic through a one-lane roundabout was simulated, the queues either side of the intersection lengthened. "It's worse than it is now," Clark said. "If that's what is going to be like, go back to the drawing board."
Although the elliptical roundabout fared no better, Kahn suggested the engineers reconfigure it to accept a higher volume of westbound traffic from Rte. 25 and run fresh simulations.
A two-lane roundabout at the intersection markedly lessened the congestion. But, a majority appeared to share the opinion of Rusty McLear that "it's more pavement than we need as a town, except on summer weekends."
Kahn said that his hope to find a solution "in my lifetime that is as inexpensive as possible, with as little land acquisition as possible and with minimal impacts on existing businesses."