, Newburyport, MA

October 25, 2012

NH seeks to ease congestion on Seabrook's busy Route 1

By Angeljean Chiaramida STAFF WRITER
Newburyport Daily News

---- — SEABROOK — By 2015, one of the busiest portions of Route 1 in Seabrook will get a little wider and a lot safer, thanks to the combined efforts of state and local agencies and a private developer.

Adding another travel lane to about 2,000 feet of Route 1 south is in the planning stages, according to the New Hampshire Department of Transportation. The project is the result of an agreement struck between Ohio shopping center developer DDR and town and state officials.

The compromise settlement allowed DDR to build its 500,000-square-foot retail outlet off the intersection of Routes 1 and 107 and the town to get this section of Route 1 widened, something it has strongly lobbied for.

The agreement also resulted in the larger state project now under way, which is adding two lanes and sidewalks to the Route 107 bridge over Interstate 95, another major coup for Seabrook.

The Route 1 widening plan includes Route 1 south from Perkins Avenue to Autumn Way, or the BP gas station to Dunkin’ Donuts, according to NHDOT officials, who presented the project at a meeting Tuesday night at Seabrook Town Hall. The span of roadway has been problematic as more national retail stores have located to Route 1.

Taking advantage of no sales tax in New Hampshire, companies like Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Lowe’s and Kohl’s, among others, have turned the roughly 3-mile strip of Seabrook’s Route 1 into a shopping mecca, drawing many out-of-state shoppers on a daily basis. The addition of DDR’s shopping center is expected to bring thousands more shoppers to town.

A sizable portion of Route 1 is already five lanes across: two travel lanes in each direction and a turning lane in the center. But the state hasn’t improved this area for about a decade, according to NHDOT’s chief of preliminary design engineer Michael Dugas. At that time, a second northbound lane was added, but due to a lack of money, the state wasn’t able to add a second southbound lane.

Considered a high-volume corridor, the section of road handles about 25,000 cars a day, Dugas said, and the lack of a second southbound travel lane has resulted in problems over the years. One spot of concern is at the BP station, where two lanes of southbound traffic must merge into one just after the intersection at Routes 1 and 107. The other is the intersection of Route 1 and Railroad Avenue, which over the past three years has seen 41 accidents, he said.

The widening wouldn’t be possible without the combined funding from DDR, Seabrook and NHDOT, according to Alexander Vogt, the state engineer managing the $1.5 million project. DDR will contribute $127,000 for the engineering design work. Seabrook, using exaction funds it has obtained from developers, will contribute $595,400. Of that, about $400,000 will go toward acquiring the land, or right of way, along the west side of the road needed for the widening. The remainder will cover the town’s 20 percent share of the construction costs. The state will provide the remaining $781,600 in construction funds, using federal highway dollars.

Vogt said the reason the project is slated for construction in 2015 is because of the time it takes time to acquire right of way. Although some of the property is available in highway easements that have already been negotiated, the remaining pieces could take a while to acquire. Appraisals must be done and prices negotiated with private property owners along the way, he said.

Currently, the project is slated to go out for bid around January 2015, with construction being completed during the same year, Vogt said. The state will not only add the lane, but will rebuild the sidewalks and move and re-install the signs and landscaping of private businesses as needed.

There will be a price to pay for residents who live on the roads that intersect the project area.

Vogt heard from Reginald Small, who has lived for 69 years on Small Avenue, between Perkins Avenue and Pine Street. Small said trying to pull out of the tiny road is already difficult because of traffic speeding by on Route 1.

Autumn Way residents Scott and Muriel Whenal agreed. Muriel Whenal said there are times when it can take five cycles of the traffic light at the intersection at Railroad Ave before she’s able to find room to safely pull out of Autumn Way and cross one southbound lane to head north on Route 1. When there’s a second southbound lane to cross, it will be even more difficult to take a left, she said.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Rockingham Planning Commission Executive Director Cliff Sinnot said a solution would be to create a cross-access road linking Autumn Way to Pine Street, which has a traffic light.

Vogt said such a change to the original plan would hold up the project and add to its costs. He added that the smaller, side roads are locally owned and the town is free to create cross-access ways on its own if it wants.