Dartmouth Med chopper makes emergency landing at Laconia Airport

GILFORD — A helicopter on its way to Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon with a patient in respiratory distress, made an emergency landing at the Laconia Municipal Airport yesterday after reporting mechanical difficulties.

Firefighters and an ambulance from Gilford responded but the helicopter had already landed safely. The patient was transferred from the DHART LZ to a Gilford ambulance and transported to Lakes Region General Hospital in Laconia to await a different DHART LZ to finish the trip to Lebanon.

Deputy Fire Chief Brad Ober said because the chopper landed safely, Laconia firefighters were diverted to LRGH to be on the scene for the second helicopter and Belmont firefighters were sent back to Belmont.

In cases of possible aviation difficulties that include potential landing problems to an actual crash, crews from Laconia and Belmont will automatically respond to the airport.

CUTLINE: Gilford Firefighters transfer an unidentified patient from a DHART LZ helicopter to an ambulance at the Laconia Airport yesterday afternoon. (Laconia Daily Sun photo/Gail Ober)

A detour too far? State seeks input on repair cycle for Weirs RR bridge

LACONIA — Officials of the New Hampshire Department of Transportation (DOT) outlined two plans for reconstructing the bridge where Rte. 3 crosses the old Boston & Maine railway line at Weirs Beach — one that would close the bridge and complete the job in a month and another that would keep one lane open and complete the job in four months — to a group of local officials and business business owners gathered at City Hall on Tuesday night.

The bridge dates from the 1890s when the split stone abutments were built and the concrete slab was added when the bridge opened in 1933. It was added to the so-called Red List of failing bridges in 2009, currently ranks 40th on the DOT's bridge priority list and is scheduled to be rebuilt in 2020. Although the bridge has no posted weight restrictions, the deck and superstructure are both rated "poor" and the abutments are rated "fair". A traffic count in 2011 found that the bridge carried a average of 13,000 vehicles — five percent of them trucks — daily during the summer season.

John Sargent, a design engineer at the DOT, said that the location of the bridge in the center of the Weirs and its place in the regional traffic network posed challenges for the project. He explained that if the bridge is closed to through-traffic during construction, traffic would have to be detoured around an 18.3 mile loop — a half-hour drive — which would mirror the re-routing of traffic when the bridge over the Weirs Channel is occasionally closed to four-wheel vehicles during Motorcycle Week. Consequently, planning a route for emergency vehicles to bypass the bridge is a high priority.

At the same time, Sargent said that if the bridge were kept open to one-lane traffic its proximity to Lakeside Avenue, Channel Lane and private driveways as well as the lack of stacking space for stopped vehicles would require an elaborate signalized intersection. Even then, he expected, there would be significant congestion during the four months of construction. Moreover, phasing construction over four months would add an estimated 25 percent to the cost of the project.

Bob Durfee, an engineer with Dubois & King who has worked at Weirs Beach, called closing the bridge "a non-starter" because of the volume of traffic flowing along Rte. 3 throughout the year. However, others agreed with the man who said "four months would be far too long for businesses" and urged the DOT to build the bridge "as quickly as possible."

Sargent said that closing the bridge would require detouring traffic and finding a by pass for emergency vehicles was a priority. He suggested it might be possible to route traffic along Channel Lane to an unimproved private right-of-way that runs north of the Paugus Bay Campground and connects with Hillard Road. He said while the road would be passable by ambulances and cruisers it would require some improvements to carry larger vehicles like ladder trucks.

Alternatively, Jeff Thurston of Thurston Marine said that the firm has an easement to cross from its property to the Weirs Beach Drive-In Theater, which is owned by Patricia Baldi, and access Rte. 3 beneath the marquee, which might also provide a bypass. "The toll we would charge would be minimal," he quipped.

The timing of the construction, which should avoid both the summer traffic and the winter weather, also presents a challenge, Sargent said. "March is the best roll of the dice," Thurston remarked.

Mark Richardson, administrator of the Bureau of Bridge Design at DOT, said that there is $1.5 million for the project allocated in the Ten-Year Highway Plan. He anticipated the design and engineering would be completed in time to solicit bids in 2019 and undertake construction in 2020.

Bike-Walk Alliance asks city to take 'complete streets approach' to roadways

LACONIA — The City Council on Monday night was asked to join the "Mayor's Challenge for Safer People and Safer Streets, an initiative by the United States Department of Transportation, to encourage municipalities to take steps to enhance the safety of bicyclists and pedestrians. Nearly 200 cities across the country have accepted the the challenge.

Tim Gagnon of the N.H. Bike-Walk Alliance, explained that the challenge is based on "the Complete Streets Approach" to transportation, which treats cycling and walking as equal to other modes of transportation, especially automobiles. Cities and towns can meet the challenge by incorporating measures that accommodate the interests and protect the safety of cyclists and pedestrians into the design of roads and management of traffic.

Councilor Bob Hamel (Ward 5) reminded Gagnon that with the construction of the WOW Trail and downtown riverwalk the city was "ahead of the curve" in expanding access and ensuring safety for cyclists and pedestrians. But, Councilor Armand Bolduc (Ward 6) questioned whether there is room for vehicles and bicycles on city streets. "If there is room in your heart," Gagnon replied, "there is plenty of room in the streets."

Alan Beetle, president of WOW Trail, urged the council to consider accepting the challenge, stressing that easing the way for bicycle and foot traffic was especially important for a city that considers itselgf a tourist destination. "It's a great way to look at our streets," he said.

Mayor Ed Engler invited John Rogers of the Laconia Artea Bicycle Exchange to develop a specific list of suggestions that would make the city more "bicycle and pedestrian friendly."