Lebanon Board Approves New DHMC Facility
Rte. 120 Traffic Concerns Settled, Research Center Given Go Ahead
Lebanon — The Planning Board last night unanimously approved plans for a new research facility at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, citing satisfaction that ongoing regional discussions will lead to solutions to traffic problems along Route 120 corridor.
The board delayed a vote on the research facility at its Dec. 10 meeting after raising concerns about congestion on the corridor — but public officials from Lebanon and Hanover have since met with the Upper Valley Lake Sunapee Regional Planning Commision and the New Hampshire Department of Transportation to discuss improving traffic flow.
“I’m going to be able to support this knowing that this larger conversation is going on,” said Nicole Cormen, the City Council representative to the board. “But what I really hope is that we can get very specific very soon.”
Lebanon Planning Director Andrew Gast-Bray said the group of regional stakeholders has met twice in the last month and has come up with a list of 30 potential projects that could help traffic flow on the roadway.
The proposed 162,970 square-foot Williamson Translational Research Building would add about 150 cars per day during the afternoon and morning peak hours, but DHMC planners have agreed to contribute $130,000 toward the combined cost of two traffic improvement projects that would alleviate some of the expected increase in traffic.
The improvement projects include the installation of advanced video-based traffic signal timing on Route 120 at the intersections of Heater Road and the Exit 18 Interstate-89 interchange, as well the re-striping of the LaHaye Drive intersection to add an additional right-hand turning lane.
The facility, which would cost about $115 million to build, would be used to conduct medical research and directly apply the findings to clinical practices on the medical campus.
While the research facility was approved without much discussion, Planning Board members showed more resistance toward a separate but related DHMC proposal to add 287 parking spaces for the new building, although the board ultimately approved the request.
According to DHMC data, the medical campus has about 4,650 parking spaces, which is 30 more than is needed for all its facilities, including the Williamson Translational Research Building. The additional spaces will push DHMC beyond that threshold by 312 parking spaces.
The question of parking triggered a larger discussion about DHMC’s long-term build-out plan, during which Gahlstrom said she couldn’t envison the medical center expanding much further at its main campus off Route 120. Cormen described the way lots had been created at the campus as “frontloading” on parking before building the facilities.
“I would really want to know, where is this going?” Cormen said. “Is this the last one or are we looking at another 500 (parking spaces)?”
Board Chair Larry LeClair suggested that the parking lot be restricted to employees who travel to work outside of the peak commuting hours, so that the additional spaces would not add to congestion on Route 120.
DHMC Vice President of Facilities Management Gail Dahlstrom said the medical campus already had a similar parking lot in place, but she was open to exploring the idea. She opposed suggestions from board members to charge employees for parking at the facility.
“One of the things that we’ve done (since the last Planning Board meeting) is to do some benchmarking with other health care organizations,” Dahlstrom said. “We could not find another rural or quasi-metropolitan (health care organization) that charges for parking.”
Dahlstrom stressed that a lack of alternative transportation was the main hindrance preventing DHMC from taking more sweeping measures to discourage employees from using single-occupancy vehicles to commute to and from the medical campus.
Planning Board Member Sue Painter asked if it was conceivable for the medical center to pay its employees not to drive to work as an alternative to charging a parking fee, but Dahlstrom said that idea had been tried by Dartmouth College with little success.
“It’s the (lack of) alternative transportation,” she said. “That is the sticking point.”
Ben Conarck can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3213.
This article has been amended to correct an earlier error.
The planned Williamson Translational Research Facility at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center will cost $115 million to build. An earlier version of this article inaccurately reported the cost of the project.