Relieving Meredith's summer traffic congestion being tied to possible expansion of prosperous commercial area, to the north

MEREDITH — As the Advisory Committee seeking to ease congestion at the US3/NH25 intersection wrestled with unenviable and unworkable choices, Rusty McLear of Hampshire Hospitality Holdings, Inc. yesterday suggested that he and the others with property abutting the critical junction — Albert Miltner of Bootleggers and Sam Laverack of Meredith Village Savings Bank — meet then offer their perspective to the panel.

Selectman Lou Kahn, who chairs the committee, expressed concern that a private discussion among the property owners could compromise the openness of the process required by the Right-to-Know Law. McLear assured him that the property owners, all of whom would be affected by a reconfiguration of the intersection, would participate in an open forum as the statute requires. The committee will likely hear from the three at its next meeting on August 21.

McLear's initiative signaled a growing interest in ensuring that the measures to improve the flow of traffic through the intersection neither significantly encroach on properties adjacent to it nor foreclose redevelopment properties to the north of it, along Rte. 3. Last month, he pointed out that although replacing the intersection with a two-lane roundabout would reduce congestion, it would forestall development worth between $6 million and $8 million on the northeast corner.

A majority of the committee agreed and requested Gene McCarthy of McFarland Johnson, Inc., project manager for the New Hampshire Department of Transportation, to assess three alternatives: a bypass, single-lane roundabout and enhanced traffic signals.

In a memorandum to the committee, McCarthy offered bleak assessments of both a bypass and single-lane roundabout. Both options are refinements of earlier proposals that found little support from the committee.

The bypass would consist of a new two-lane, one-way road carrying westbound traffic on Rte. 25 from its intersection with Pleasant Street across Hawkins Brook to Rte. 3, north of the US3/NH25 intersection, where a roundabout would be constructed south of the sewer pump station. The US3/NH25 intersection would be replaced by a single lane roundabout. Rte. 25 from Main Street to Pleasant Street would become a single-lane, one-way road for eastbound traffic and its intersection with Pleasant Street would be replaced by a single-lane roundabout with a slip lane for westbound traffic using the bypass.

The estimated cost of constructing the new roadway and three roundabouts, excluding property acquisition and environmental mitigation, is $4.6 million.

Since the bypass was proposed as an alternative to a two-lane roundabout at US3/NH25 intersection, McCarthy said that the traffic flow was modeled to measure the impact on the intersection. The results indicated that vehicles would be delayed an average of 3 1/2 minutes at the intersection and traffic would be stalled through the roundabout to the north and onto the westbound bypass.

McCarthy noted that the two roundabouts on Rte. 3 — at Rte. 25 and to the north — would be only 350 feet apart, requiring southbound traffic from the bypass to immediately merge into one southbound lane on leaving the roundabout. Likewise, he said that a single-lane roundabout at Pleasant Street would lack capacity to manage peak eastbound traffic on Rte. 25.

Furthermore, McCarthy projected that the bypass option would halve the number of spaces in the parking lots owned by the town and Meredith Village Savings Bank. The project would encroach on two lots owned by the town and four private parcels. Likewise, he pointed out that there would not be sufficient clearance beneath the bypass for the proposed Meredith Village Pathway along Hawkins Brook. Finally, he reported that state and federal agencies indicated that environmental permits for the project would be granted only with significant mitigation requirements.

A number of roundabouts have been proposed to replace the US3/NH25 intersection, including two single-lane designs, both of which included an additional slip lane for vehicles turning right. The committee was concerned at the impact of these designs on surrounding properties and requested evaluation of a single-lane roundabout without slip lanes.

McCarthy said that a single-lane roundabout without slip lanes would function "above failing conditions" with up to two-thirds of the weekend traffic volumes projected for 2035, which are the benchmarks for designing the project. Modeling indicated that It would fail for at least an hour a day on nearly half the days of the year at current traffic volumes on nearly 80-percent of days at the volumes projected for 2035.

McCarthy told the committee that in order for traffic signals to reduce congestion, the use of the existing pavement and right-of-ways would have to be maximized. He said that two of the five northbound lanes on Rte. 3 south of Rte. 25 would be dedicated to vehicles turning east on 25. Rte. 25 would be widened to four or five lanes, with the fifth lane for traffic turning north on Rte. 3 representing the optimal alternative. He projected that enhanced signalization and additional lanes would be superior to a single-lane roundabout, but repeated that a two-lane roundabout at the junction offered the most effective option.

After the meeting Kahn indicated the despite its drawbacks, the proposed bypass warranted further consideration. While other options might address the traffic problem, they would neither enhance the value nor further the development of property on either side of Rte. 3, north of its intersection with 25. The bypass, he suggested, represented an opportunity to expand the bounds of downtown to include this stretch of Rte. 3. Nor, as John Edgar, director of community development, reminded the committee would abandoning the bypass and roundabout at Pleasant Street improve access to commercial properties to the east.