Selectmen Hassle with Request to Keep Traffic Light

May 24, 2013

by Barbara O’Brien

As the Route 93 reconstruction project moves forward and, with it, renovations to Route 111 in Windham, selectmen are hassling with a request from numerous business owners to leave what was supposed to be a “temporary” traffic signal in place.  The traffic light in question is located at the intersection of Route 111 and the ramp to the northbound lane of Interstate 93.

The issue first became public about a month ago, at which time selectmen decided to hold a public information night to allow interested business owners and residents to ask questions and have their say.  Representatives of the New Hampshire Department of Transportation (DOT) were also invited.  The forum was conducted at Windham’s historic Town Hall on May 20 and encompassed about two hours of discussion.

Approximately 10 years ago, when the Route 93 reconstruction project first got underway in the Exit 3 vicinity, selectmen who were sitting on the board at the time told DOT officials that they wanted the traffic signal at the intersection of Range Road and Route 111 to be removed when the construction work was completed.  As the result of substantial development in that area, however, local business owners are now asking the current selectmen to reverse that decision.

Selectman Roger Hohenberger, who was already on the board a decade ago, said the decision to have the light removed, at the end of the construction project, was intended to prevent traffic signals from being too close together.  Hohenberger said the prior board of selectmen didn’t want that section of Windham to wind up looking like South Willow Street in Manchester.

Former selectman Alan Carpenter said he wasn’t for or against keeping the traffic signal, but wanted to give town officials a point to ponder.  The length of Route 111 between London Bridge Road and Route 28 is approximately two miles, Carpenter said; a distance that could have 12 traffic lights when the project is completed.  That’s about one traffic signal every 1,000 feet, he explained.  “We will wind up having a gridlock during key hours,” Carpenter commented.

At the outset of the meeting, local business owner and member of the Windham Economic Development Committee Karl Dubay presented selectmen with 56 pages of testimony supporting retention of the traffic signal at Range Road and Route 111.  Dubay emphasized the importance of the traffic light, saying it is needed for the safety of motorists and to allow easier access to area businesses.  “It’s a no-brainer,” Dubay said.  “There’s no good reason to remove it.”  “It will add value to the Gateway District,” Dubay continued.  “It’s good for business and it’s good for property values.”  Dubay said that keeping the traffic signal in place is being recommended by the members of the Windham Economic Development Committee.  “It’s in the best interest of everyone,” he said.  If it is removed, the likelihood of motor vehicle accidents will increase and tax assessments on commercial property would likely decrease, Dubay stated.

Traffic engineer Rob Woodland, who has been evaluating traffic studies done in the area, agreed with Dubay, saying that he is confident that keeping the traffic signal in place “is the best solution.”  “It will be an effective solution long-term, Woodland said.  Woodland said keeping the traffic signal would be permissible because that intersection meets the criteria for traffic volume on several levels.

Another traffic engineer, who said he was representing one of the area property owners, didn’t agree with Woodland, however, stating that the decision on whether or not to retain the light should be based strictly on more specific engineering criteria.  “If the location doesn’t meet the minimum standards, then the answer is “No,” he said. “  From a traffic engineering standpoint, stay with the original concept,” the engineer urged selectmen; get rid of the traffic signal.  “Is it warranted or not?” he asked.  “I don’t believe it is.”

Resident Betty Dunn said she was concerned about what could happen to pedestrians attempting to cross that portion of Range Road if the traffic signal disappears.  “It’s really, really scary to see people try to walk across that intersection now,” Dunn said.

During the meeting, a request to install a new traffic signal at the intersection of Range Road and Delahunty Drive was also received.  Some of the residents who live in that area said it is very difficult for them to even make the turn to head home, because of the heavy volume of traffic.  In response to concern about there being too many lights along that portion of the roadway, Woodland said that the lights would be synchronized to help prevent traffic building up.  Several people in the audience commented that the existing lights in that area aren’t very well coordinated, causing a lot of stop and go driving.

Selectman Ross McLeod reminded everyone that the clock on the project continues to tick and DOT officials need an answer from town officials as to the fate of the traffic signal at the intersection of Range Road and Route 111.  “We’re already past the Eleventh Hour,” McLeod said.  “It’s nearly midnight.”  DOT representatives attended the May 20 session, but did not provide any input.  Previously, Peter Stamnas, who heads up the Route 93 construction in Windham, had said time was running out for Windham selectmen to provide direction to the DOT.

Selectman McLeod was one of only two selectmen to give a definitive answer on what path to take.  “Keep the traffic light,” McLeod recommended.  “I would hate to see these businesses handicapped.”  Eventually, however, he would like to see a round-about constructed in that area, McLeod noted.  Selectman Kathleen DiFruscia also urged keeping the traffic signal.  “We need to do everything we can to assure that these businesses are successful,” she said.  “I don’t see any detriment to keeping it.”

Selectman Hohenberger said he was pretty much convinced that the past decision to get rid of the traffic light turned out to be a poor choice, mostly because of the level of commercial development that has taken place in this portion of Windham in the past decade.  Hohenberger did add, however, that he is opposed to the development of Route 111-A; a realignment of the old Route 111, which would provide a secondary access to businesses situated along that stretch.  Hohenberger appeared to be the only selectmen who held that opinion, however.

Selectman Al Letizio, Jr. said he feels “conflicted” about making a decision on the traffic light’s future, adding that he understands both sides of the issue.  “The flow of traffic does need to be managed, however,” Letizio said.

Chairman Phil LoChiatto was the last to speak on the issue, stating that he is “struggling” with the decision.  “I don’t know what the solution is,” he said, explaining that the proposed plan reminds him of Route 28 in Salem; something a lot of Windham residents don’t want to see duplicated in their town.  “I don’t want anyone to be hurt by our decision,” LoChiatto said.  “I prefer to see the traffic light go, but, if it stays, I would also want a light at Delahunty Drive.”

Although no date was set, the next step in the saga will be for town officials to hold a joint meeting with representatives of the New Hampshire Department of Transportation.