MEREDITH — Of all the towns around Lake Winnipesaukee, none have undergone greater change in the past few decades than Meredith, yet the prospect of reconfiguring the flow of traffic through town has met with stiff and spirited opposition in anticipation of a public hearing on the plan next week.
The U.S. Route 3/N.H. Route 25 Advisory Committee, chaired by Selectman Lou Kahn and composed of city officials, residents and business owners, has recommended constructing three roundabouts, which it believes will mitigate, but not eliminate, congestion during the summer months while slowing traffic and providing crosswalks to ease the movement of pedestrians.
Opposition to the plan is intense and widespread. A petition urging the Board of Selectmen to scuttle the proposal has collected hundreds of signatures. A handful of letter writers to local newspapers have questioned virtually every aspect of the proposal and asked residents to urge the selectmen to reject it.
The committee proposes replacing the traffic signal at the junction of Routes 3 and 25 with a single lane roundabout and constructing two other single lane roundabouts, one at Lake Street and another at Pleasant Street. The roundabout at the 3/25 intersection will have two right turn lanes to carry northbound traffic from Rte. 3 eastbound on Rte. 25. Traffic islands on Rte. 3 would forestall left turns in and out of Dover Street and on Rte. 25 would forestall left turns in or out of Meredith Village Savings Bank and the Hannaford shopping center.
The roundabout at Lake Street will enable northbound traffic on Rte. 3 to turn on to Lake Street and traffic on Lake Street to turn either southbound or northbound on to Rte. 3. The roundabout at Pleasant Street will include a driveway leading to the parking lots of both Meredith Village Savings Bank and the shopping center, enabling traffic on Rte. 25 to enter and exit without making left turns.
Each of the roundabouts will have crosswalks designed to enable pedestrians to cross one lane of traffic at a time. There will also be a crosswalk at Dover Street where a center island on Rte. 3 will enable pedestrians to cross one lane of traffic at a time. The crosswalks are not expected to significantly slow the flow of traffic on Rte. 3.
The construction costs, which the DOT estimates at $5 million, would be financed by a $4-million federal grant awarded to the DOT supplemented by state funding. The state would also fund the cost land acquisition. The town would not contribute to the construction budget, but would be responsible for the maintenance of any landscaping of the roundabouts and median strips.
Critics have fastened on issues raised by town officials at a meeting with Gene McCarthy of McFarland Johnson, Inc., the project manager, and representatives of DOT in December. Dan Leonard, superintendent of the Water and Sewer Department expressed concern about the impact on underground utilities. Fire Chief Ken Jones feared that the roundabouts and median strips would hinder the movement of emergency vehicles, slowing response times. Mike Faller, director of Public Works, questioned landscaping the median strips, recommending concrete, which would enable emergency vehicles to cross and reduce the cost of maintenance.
McCarthy indicated that these concerns could be addressed by the final design of the project. However, he noted that while every effort will be made to avoid impacts on municipal utilities, if they must be relocated, the town would bear the cost.
Other opponents have claimed that there is no data to indicate that the roundabouts will either improve the flow of traffic or enhance the safety of motiorists. "Everyone is in favor of eliminating congestion," wrote Marc Abear, but what does the engineering show about the outcome?" Likewise, Abear acknowledges that roundabouts may be appropriate at particular intersections, but insists no evidence has been presented to show that the three are dangerous, congested or complex.
Karen Sticht noted that the proposed traffic patter, by eliminating left turns, will compel drivers to circle a roundabout and backtrack to their destination. "I am prone to motion sickness and driving in circles makes me nauseous," she wrote, perhaps tongue in cheek. Moreover, she observed that roundabouts are cluttered with directional signs — 20 at each, she claimed — which will make the lakefront corridor "confusing and ugly."
Kahn, who has made the rounds speaking to civic groups in support of the proposal, stresses that it will mitigate congestion during the summer months, enhance conditions for pedestrians and improve the flow of traffic at the shopping center. He said that the committee considered a number of alternatives, including a dozen options considered "reasonable" by the first advisory committee, which convened in 2006 and reported in 2009. Traffic flows for each option were modeled using current and projected traffic volumes.
"There is no perfect solution," Kahn said, adding that "critics of the proposal insist that without am absolutely perfect solution there should be no change."
Kahn said that the system of three roundabouts "solves the issue of congestion to the extent it can be solved," explaining that none of alternatives would overcome the problem. Northbound traffic turning east on Rte. 25 on Friday evenings and Saturday mornings, he said, would be much less congested while westbound traffic turning south on Rte. 3 may remain congested, but move continuously without the traffic signal.
Kahn conceded that a two lane roundabout at the intersection of 3/25 would have a greater impact on congestion, but only at the expense of properties surrounding the junction and perhaps also Scenic Park.
Kahn said DOT expects slower moving traffic will enable pedestrians to cross without causing significant delays. Likewise, the median strip will enable pedestrians crossing Rte. 3 at Dover Street to cross one lane at a time. while traffic will not stop in both directions at once.
He also said that along with improving conditions for motorists and pedestrians, he believes that with appropriate landscaping the improved roadway will significantly enhance the appearance of the waterfront. He noted that in Manchester, Vermont a roundabout faced fierce opposition from residents, whose opinion changed once the project was complete as they found it easy to negotiate and pleasing to the eye.
The town has wrestled with easing congestion on summer weekends intermittently since 1975, when the New Hampshire Department of Transportation (DOT) proposed widening Route 3 and Route 25 to six lanes along the waterfront. In 2006 the first 3/25 Advisory Committee was convened to address the length of the corridor from the Rte. 104 intersection to the Center Harbor town line, a distance of 4.2 miles. After three years, the committee winnowed the range of options to 10 "reasonable" alternatives without offering s specific proposal. In 2013 a second advisory committee was convened and the scope of the project was shrunk to the one mile and 1,000 foot stretch from the intersection of 3/104 to Pleasant Street.
The public hearing will be held on Monday, January 26 in the auditorium at Inter-Lakes High School beginning at 6 p.m.