GILMANTON — The frequency of traffic accidents at the routes 140-107 intersection is increasing at an alarming rate, says a group of town residents who insist that, unless changes are made soon, the junction will become more and more dangerous.
A study conducted by the state Department of Transportation showed there were 12 crashes at the intersection between 2007 and 2011. That’s the same number of crashes that took place in the past 12 months alone, points out Debra Currier, who is part of an ad hoc citizens group that has banded together in an effort to draw attention — both by the public and state officials — to the problem.
“We’re the squeaking wheel,” Currier said last week as she and other members of the group gathered outside the Gilmanton Cafe, which abuts the highway crossroads.
Traffic at Gilmanton Four Corners is controlled by a four-way flashing traffic light that hangs over the center of the intersection. Traffic on east-west Route 140 is required to stop, while motorists driving on north-south Route 107 see a flashing yellow caution light, and so have the right of way.
Until three years ago, there were typically two or three accidents a year, but in 2016, the number leaped to eight, and the annual count has remained well above the average of prior years — five in 2017 and nine in 2018.
Counter to what one might expect, traffic on the more heavily traveled Route 140 is required to stop, rather than cars on the less-busy Route 107. Currier and fellow group member Lori Baldwin wonder if that might be part of the problem.
Currier said some motorists on Route 107 think it’s a four-way stop, which drivers on Route 140 might interpret as the car on 107 yielding the right of way.
Israel Willard, who lives at the intersection, said that trees close to the road make it hard for westbound drivers on Route 140 to get a clear view of southbound traffic on Route 107.
Ron O’Connor Jr., another group member, said too many cars traveling east on Route 140 just “blow through” the intersection.
“Most of the problem is traffic coming from the Belmont side,” he said.
Even in the 2012 study, the DOT acknowledged there are problems with the intersection. The study showed that 70 percent of the vehicles traveling along Route 107 through the intersection were exceeding the 30 mph speed limit. It further found that half of the 12 crashes that occurred between 2007 and 2011 were due to the failure to yield the right of way — more than double the statewide average of 23 percent for accidents of that type.
Improvements to the intersection are being recommended for inclusion in the state Department of Transportation’s next edition of the 10-Year Plan of highway infrastructure projects. However, those recommendations are subject to approval by the Legislature, which is not expected to vote on the plan until next June. If funds to improve the intersection make it into the plan, the work probably would not take place until 2029, said Sue Slack, principal planner for the Lakes Region Planning Commission.
Pressuring the DOT and lawmakers is essential if the improvements to the intersection are going to happen, say members of the group.
“We need to get our state reps involved,” Willard said.
O’Connor said the DOT’s preferred solution is to build a one-lane roundabout in which traffic would flow in one direction around a central island.
“A roundabout would keep the traffic flowing,” O’Connor said, while at the same time eliminating the chances of head-on or T-bone accidents.
O’Connor and others in the group said the problem has become too serious to wait for 10 years before making any improvements.
In the short term, the DOT’s 2012 study suggested giving traffic on Route 140 the right of way, or making the intersection a four-way stop.
“It’s not an easy fix,” Currier concedes.
“Everybody is anxious to get even a temporary solution,” Willard said.
“I hope the state will give us a Band-Aid [solution] until they can fix the problem,” Currier added.