MEREDITH — The main Community Center meeting room filled to overflowing last evening when the Rte. 3/Rte. 25 Advisory Committee presented its recommendation for addressing traffic congestion along the north-south, eats-west corridor between Lake Street and Pleasant. Street at a workshop hosted by the Board of Selectmen..
Carla Horne, who chairs the Selectboard, reminded the crowd that purpose of the meeting was to provide information, not provoke debate, about the plan and asked residents to confine their questions to technical issues. She said that a public hearing will be held on the merits of the proposal on Monday, January 26, after which the selectmen will either reject or accept the recommendation of the committee.
Selectman Lou Kahn, who chaired the committee, noted that efforts to address the traffic through town have been underway, if sporadically, since 1975 and included two proposals by the New Hampshire Department of Transportation (DOT), one a six lane highway along the lakefront, which the town rejected. The predecessor to the committee, which included representatives of nearby towns, met 26 times from 2006 to 2009, but failed to agree on a recommendation.
Kahen explained that the committee, composed exclusively of "stakeholders" from Meredith, was convened when the DOT announced it had received $4 million in federal funding for the project. The panel, he said, met nine times to consider all the alternatives, among them options weighed and scuttled in the past.
The DOT, Kahn noted, preferred a 2-lane roundabout at the junction of Rte. 3 and Rte. 25, which traffic models indicated would have the most significant impact on congestion. However, the committee rejected this option because it would damage the properties on all four corners of intersections and hinder the movement of crosstown traffic between Main Street and Rte. 25. Furthermore, the expanse of pavement required would be "just plan ugly".
Instead, Kahn said the committee chose "a system of roundabouts" — at Lake Street, the primary junction and Pleasant Street — explaining each has an effect on the others." Together they would facilitate "a steady, slow, moving flow of traffic," which he claimed would be an improvement. At the same time, he said "it will make the town much more attractive," picturing landscaped and lit roundabouts connected by roadway divided by a tree lined median strip. "This is a gift from the federal government," Kahn declared, "which you all love I know."
Gene McCarthy of McFarland Johnson of Concord, project manager for the DOT, said the plan offered "a very efficient way of moving traffic." There would be some 2,000 feet of roadway without a traffic signal and, with the roundabouts and median strips, no left turns, which impede the flow of traffic. He stressed that the roundabouts are designed to accommodate large trucks and emergency vehicles and the 20-foot width of the travel lanes either side of the median strip will enable emergency vehicles to navigate through traffic.
McCarthy characterized the impact on abutting properties as minimal. Ten parking paces would be lost at Bay Point and six at Mill Falls to the central roundabout. Scenic Park would be spared by widening Rte. 25 between five and 10 feet on the north side of the road. There would be pedestrian crossings at each leg of all three roundabouts, so no one would have to cross more than one lane of traffic at a time.
"Are we doing this for the townspeople of for the people coming through here?" asked the first questioner. "And is it worth it?"
McCarthy replied that "community character is driving this as much as traffic."
Kahn said that the plan would significantly improve the movement of traffic in nine months of the year. "We're not only getting rid of a traffic light but also a helluva lot of ugly pavement," he said, adding that the improvements "will dress up the lakefront."
Nancy Winter of Pleasant Street, who said her grandson was struck where Pleasant Street joins Rte. 25, expressed concern at the speed of traffic coming down the hill. McCarthy said that because roundabouts have a calming effect on traffic, speeds would diminish along the entire corridor.
"Roundabouts don't work with bumper-to-bumper traffic," said Bob Ambrose, who expected heavy traffic in the summer months, especially on weekends, would clog the roundabouts and increase the congestion.In addition, he raised concerns about shrinking Rte. 25 between Pleasant Street and the intersection with Rte. 3 to a single lane.
Ambrose was echoed by Dave Connor, who travels east to west in the morning and west to east in the evening daily. "I'm a little disappointed," he said, anticipating that the plan was more likely to increase than decrease congestion.
"This is not a capacity project," said McCarthy, conceding "we haven't widened the corridor. Have we added capacity? No."
Horne urged those interested to visit the DOT website at http://www.nh.gov/dot/projects/meredith10430/index.htm, which includes the proceedings and documentation that led to the Advisory Committee's recommendation.
CAPTION: At the podium, Gene McCarthy of McFarland Johnson, project manager for the Rte. 3/Rte. 25 improvement project in Meredith, fields a question about the proposed system of three roundabouts recommended by the Advisory Committee from Bob Ambrose before a full house at the Community Center. (Laconia Daily Sun photo/Michael Kitch).