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Claremont Mulls Business Strip Fix

Claremont — City officials are in the early stages of planning changes to address traffic concerns on the busy Washington Street commercial strip.

At a Traffic Committee meeting yesterday, Mike McCrory, a senior planner with the Upper Valley Lake Sunapee Regional Planning Commission, led a discussion about the potential for signal and intersection changes.

McCrory stressed that his ideas for a “corridor access management plan” are very preliminary.

“They are about guidance for later action, not something that will be done tomorrow,” McCrory said, adding that he will have a draft report ready for public comment in June.

The discussions grew out of a 2011 Roadway Safety Audit that identified some specific goals to improve safety and reduce the number of accidents. But the committee has an equally important goal of not creating impediments that could hurt the flow of customer traffic to the numerous businesses on the four-lane road.

“The road is unique in that there is a combination of business and residences that rely on direct and safe access to Washington Street,” McCrory said after the meeting.

McCrory said they have two main goals with the management plan: manage traffic speeds with even distribution of signals and create turnaround points.

The discussion yesterday centered on locations to allow for safe turnarounds in sections where access is restricted to right hand turns.

“If we restrict access, there needs to be opportunity to reverse direction (so a business does not lose customers),” McCrory said after the meeting. “We haven’t yet found specific locations but we would be looking at two or three points for turnarounds.”

Though there was mention of roundabouts or rotaries, to turn around, the consensus seemed to favor a less costly approach that would permit U-turns with an additional lane in designated intersections.

“If we can turn them around, people will take a right (out of an access)” said Planning and Development Director Nancy Merrill.

McCrory said at the meeting that focus would be on the stretch of Washington Street from North Street to Arthur Street, which sits between Hannaford’s and the Big Lots shopping plaza. Also being given consideration is Moody Avenue, between Dunkin’ Donuts and Arrowhead Motors.

Finals decisions are a long way off and state funding for any work remains an unknown.

The committee also agreed that extending cement barriers along the median at the busier intersections would improve safety by preventing motorists from making turns across two lanes of traffic.

McCrory said preliminary design work is being done by the state at the Bowen Street intersection, which serves as the entrance to Walmart. While construction may be a year or two away, McCrory said the goal is to create a four-way intersection with a common entrance for Auto Zone and the new Verizon store.

“Part of the safety issue is there are a lot of access points in a tight area and it results in general confusion,” McCrory said. “Improvements will cut out a couple of conflict points.”

That intersection and Moody Avenue, which leads to several residential streets, were cited in the audit as areas with critical safety concerns.

A couple of maps presented by McCrory at the meeting showed a greater concentration of access points between Bowen Street and Moody Avenue and many buildings closer to the road. A second map indicated the frequency of accidents between 2002-2011 with the highest number at Bowen Street intersection and the vicinity between Staples and Burger King. There was also a cluster of accidents around Arthur Street and Moody Avenue.

McCrory emphasized that acceptance of the proposal by residents, businesses and motorists is key to creating a successful program.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at ogrady56@yahoo.com.

CORRECTION

This article has been amended to correct an earlier error. Mike McCrory is a senior planner with the Upper Valley Lake Sunapee Regional Planning Commission. His last name was misspelled in an earlier version of this article.