Will the Circumferential Highway Rise from the Ashes?

October 18, 2013
 
by Lynne Ober

In September when Hudson Selectmen asked their elected state legislators to meet with them, one of the topics was easing the traffic on Lowell Road.  At selectmen’s request, a meeting was set up with the NH Department of Transportation (NHDOT) commissioner and staff.

Late last week Town Administrator Steve Malizia, Selectmen Roger Coutu and Ted Luszey, State Senator Sharon Carson, State Representatives Russ Ober, Lynne Ober, Andy Renzullo, Rick Levasseur and Jordan Ulery met with NHDOT Commissioner Christopher Clemens and his staff.Clemens explained that he had asked his staff to provide the history as he had not been with the agency when the project was shelved in 1994 when the U.S. EPA filed intent to veto based on concerns about impacts to wildlife and wetlands in the southern segment.  Clemens also said that the Ten Year Highway Plan had been drastically revised to just include work that could be completed within the ten year span.  “Prior to the revision, the Ten Year Highway Plan had enough work for forty years and was unrealistic.”

Coutu explained that traffic on Lowell Road during peak times was very difficult and slow and that even during off-peak times, usage of that corridor was very heavy.  He said that selectmen were interested in building just the part of this project that led off Sagamore Bridge up to Route 111, which would divert traffic now going to neighborhoods as people sought alternative routes away from Lowell Road.  “This is a topic each and every election.”  He further said that Hudson had developed three possible alternatives, which were:

  • o Put the project back onto the Ten Year Plan
  • o Have the state sell or lease the land to Hudson
  • o Compromise with the state on how to build the 4.65 miles from the Sagamore Bridge to Route 111.

Nancy Mayville, who had been the Project Manager for the entire Circumferential Highway project, attended the meeting and explained some of the issues that the project had encountered, explaining that “when the EPA filed the intent to veto, we dropped the project.”  She brought maps of both the proposed route and the modified route that the state developed to alleviate US EPA concerns.Both Hudson Police Chief Jay Lavoie and former Fire Chief Shawn Murray wrote letters supporting the proposed bypass.  The October 2009 Hudson CTAP Discretionary Project Report was also presented and this report included some cost estimates for building a 2-lane road on the land where the circumferential highway was originally proposed.NH DOT staff explained that the property had been purchased solely with Turnpike Funds, which are raised via tolls paid by NH Turnpike users, and, as such, if the land was to be sold, Hudson would need to pay a fair market value.  In the September meeting with legislators, selectmen had wondered if they could lease the land for 99 years for $1, but that would not be possible.However, Clemens did say that his team was willing to examine options, including the use of a modest toll to pay for both the bond to build the project and to pay for maintenance of the road.  Clemens made it clear that on-going maintenance, after the bond was paid off, would continue to be funded via a modest toll, which is consistent with other state turnpike roads.While the road was originally intended to be a four lane, 70 MPH bypass, Coutu explained that a limited access road with only two lanes and 35 MPH would be enough to relieve the constant congestion on the Lowell Road corridor.  It was suggested and all parties seemed to be agreeable to looking at how to build the two lanes while preserving the ability to expand to four lanes at some point in the future, if needed.One problem with this area surrounds wetlands.  Mayville explained that the original proposed route had to be modified because of significant wetland impact and that NH DOT Turnpike had been in the process of obtaining all the property needed for the proposed alternative route, but had not completed the purchase of all parcels at the time the project was shelved.  The state still owns the parcels that had been acquired.

Jeff Brillhart, Assistant Commissioner, said that all work on the project would have to begin again from scratch and to build just the piece under discussion could take four to five years because of the federal permitting and approvals needed for the route.  However, he did indicate that this was feasible.

The commissioner and his staff said they would meet internally to work on a possible proposal now that they understood Hudson’s request.  Everyone in attendance felt that the meeting was a positive step in the right direction.