LACONIA — State highway officials are evaluating two possible locations for a crosswalk across Route 3 in Weirs Beach which residents have been pressing for in recent years.
Assistant Transportation Commission William Cass viewed the area Tuesday along the busy thoroughfare between Hilliard Road and Tower Street.
It was one of several stops Cass, accompanied by state Rep. Charlie St. Clair, made in the Laconia area to get a first-hand look at highway and other transportation-related concerns.
Residents living in Weirs Beach Village subdivision and the nearby Meredith Bridge condominiums petitioned last year to have a crosswalk put in so they would have a safe place to cross the highway.
“Drivers tend to slow down and stop if they see someone standing near a crosswalk,” St. Clair said, explaining that pedestrians crossing the highway now often feel like they are taking their lives in their hands.
Residents want the crosswalk placed in front of the Cumberland Farms convenience store and gas station, according to Marie Bright, a resident of Weirs Beach Village who collected about 100 signatures for the petition.
State DOT officials had said earlier they preferred that the crosswalk be placed one block south at the intersection of Route 3 and Hilliard Road.
St. Clair said Cass indicated he found “pros and cons” with both crosswalk locations.
To date the state has said that the city would have to pay to install the crosswalk and the associated signs and warning lights.
The state has told the city that if it installs the crosswalk it would be required to make it fully handicap accessible, and install flashing pedestrian warning beacons and street lights for some distance on either side of the crosswalk, according to City Manager Scott Myers, who estimated the cost would exceed $100,000.
“I would like to see the state come up with more funds for this,” said St. Clair, who serves on the House Transportation Committee. “This is a real public safety issue.”
Laconia City Councilor Bruce Cheney, who St. Clair said has been very involved in the issue, participated in the on-site inspection.
While Cass made no commitments regarding the project, St. Clair said the assistant commissioner’s visit was beneficial.
“Just getting him up here to see things with his own eyes is a great victory,” St. Clair said of the two-hour-long tour. “It’s better than people looking over plans in a conference room down in Concord.”
St. Clair also gave Cass a first-hand look at concerns about certain business signs along the highway, safety concerns about the intersection of Parade Road (Route 106) and Roller Coaster Road in Laconia, and the need for rumble strips on Route 106 in Belmont.
St. Clair said three Weirs Beach businesses received notices from DOT that they needed to move their signs because they were inside the state right of way.
Ava Doyle, who owns Sun Valley Cottages, said she received a notice from DOT last October stating she had 20 days to remove the sign in front of her cottage colony at Route 3 and Roller Coaster Road. Doyle said she later learned that DOT sent notices to her and two nearby businesses because the department had received a complaint from a new business that it was not allowed to erect a sign as close to the highway as some older businesses in the same area.
St. Clair said the state passed a law in the 1960s which prohibited commercial signs from being inside the state highway rights of way. However, the state has not proactively enforced that law, he said.
Doyle thinks the sign for her business has been where it is since the 1950s. She believes what the DOT is doing amounts to selected enforcement.
“You cannot apply this (law) haphazardly,” she said.
St. Clair said that if he is re-elected next month he will file a bill to exempt any business signs which were in place prior to the 1960s statute.
St. Clair said the state still plans to install rumble strips along Route 106 through Belmont, Canterbury, and Loudon. He said DOT is expected to hold public hearings in each of the communities on the plan sometime this fall or during the winter. The work would not take place until next year’s construction season.
St. Clair believes rumble strips save lives and has been pushing to have them installed on busy Route 106 which has been the scene of numerous head-on crashes in recent years.
The intersection of Parade Road and Roller Coaster Road was another stop on the tour because of the greater risk of collisions at the intersection, particularly with vehicles making a left turn off Roller Coaster to head south on Parade Road where the speed limit is 50 mph, St. Clair said.