Dartmouth-Hitchcock seeks to delay traffic plan in order to get building permits first

  • Dartmouth-Hitchcock received approval from the City of Lebanon to build a $130 million patient tower. The five-story, nearly 200,000-square-foot building is to be at the existing northern entrance to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, within the existing Loop Road. (Courtesy HDR/DHMC) Courtesy HDR/DHMC

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 5/10/2020 8:28:42 PM
Modified: 5/11/2020 9:01:49 PM

LEBANON — Dartmouth-Hitchcock is asking to delay traffic and pedestrian improvements tied to a $130 million expansion of its Lebanon campus, with officials warning that upgrades agreed to in January could put work on the hospital’s five-story patient tower months behind schedule.

In a letter to Lebanon’s Planning Board, the hospital agrees to improve walkways and bicycle paths in the area of Route 120 and Mount Support Road.

But it wants to tackle those projects after first obtaining a building permit for the roughly 200,000-square-foot expansion slated for the existing northern entrance to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.

“We and the planning staff have realized that the work to design and estimate the walkway and bike path improvements would likely take six-to-nine months,” D-H spokesman Rick Adams said in an email on Thursday. “We are all anticipating the need to obtain building permits for our projects much sooner.”

He added that work on the expansion project is now scheduled for a June start.

The Planning Board earlier this year approved plans for the new patient tower, which could house as many as 112 new beds, and is expected to draw an additional 270 vehicles an hour during peak morning and evening commutes.

In its approval, the board stipulated that D-H would present plans to mitigate traffic before obtaining a building permit.

However, the hospital is asking to amend that provision, saying it will instead have a proposal ready before seeking a certificate of occupancy. The Planning Board will decide Monday whether to OK the change.

Dartmouth-Hitchcock also says the delay is needed because of wider talks surrounding the busy traffic corridor near the Hanover town line.

The hospital, along with several developers and city planners, is now engaged in discussions about whether to fund larger traffic upgrades, rather than tackle them in a piecemeal fashion as part of Planning Board reviews.

Lebanon Planning Director David Brooks said the talks are meant to produce a unified plan for dealing with traffic along Mount Support Road and into Route 120.

At least four projects — the hospital expansion and three large-scale resident developments — are planned for the area but might not on their own require traffic improvements, he said in an interview Thursday.

“But they will be putting cars on the road,” Brooks said. “So, the thought all along has been to try to see if there’s a way to coordinate efforts or contributions toward a single project or single effort that might be bigger than any one of these individual projects would be expected to take on by themselves.”

He declined to say what the traffic projects might entail, other than possibly seeing developers chip in to an effort managed by the city.

The Planning Board is actively engaged in a review of a proposed 309-unit development intended to house Dartmouth College graduate students in four apartment buildings at 401 Mount Support Road.

That $50 million housing complex planned on college land south of the hospital would draw an additional 139 cars on the road during peak weekday hours, according to traffic reports.

On Monday, the board also will hear plans to build 250 apartments pitched by Massachusetts-based developer Saxon Partners on an abutting piece of land.

If built, that development would add 110 vehicles to the road during a weekday evening peak hour, according to a traffic study submitted to the city.

And Vermont-based developer The Braverman Co. has previously floated plans to build two buildings at 402 Mount Support Road, each housing 48 to 50 units and offering underground or covered parking.

Route 120 sees more than 19,100 cars travel daily between Lebanon and Hanover, according to traffic counts conducted by the New Hampshire Department of Transportation.

Planning Board Chairman Bruce Garland said he expects traffic to be a large focus of each project’s review.

That would include discussions on parking, how many people are expected to access public transport, and whether the developers are offering shuttles to Hanover and the hospital, he said.

“One of the difficulties is that each project comes in on its own,” Garland said. “The question is when you pile them all together, what do you get?”

While it’s still unclear what the total impact of traffic will be on the Route 120 corridor, at least one group has presented a proposal to upgrade bike and pedestrian safety.

Hanover’s Bicyclist and Pedestrian Committee earlier this year called for the completion of several unfinished bike and walking paths near the hospital, including connections to Buck Road, the south end of Mount Support Road and new paths that could connect with Route 120 and Centerra Marketplace.

Bill Young, the committee’s chairman, also suggested that all new developments along Mount Support Road be linked with paths and sidewalks “to make walking, biking and not using your vehicle more attractive.”

Any planned upgrades should take into consideration Lebanon and Hanover’s connected status, Hanover Planning Director Robert Houseman said Thursday.

For instance, graduate students that could move into developments planned for Mount Support Road would be traveling to downtown Hanover to attend class, while researchers and doctors at DHMC frequently travel between the two communities.

“We don’t operate in a vacuum,” Houseman said. “We have this co-mingled employment population that cross town lines. They live in Hanover and commute to Lebanon by foot, by bike, by transit or by car, and vice versa.”

Houseman said Hanover hopes to advocate for an “integrated approach” to traffic that closes gaps in existing infrastructure. That includes finishing incomplete bike and pedestrian paths and linking them up to those in Lebanon.

The town also has requested Lebanon to look at “the total development” planned for the hospital and Mount Support Road while searching for a unified approach to address the corridor’s needs.

“If you leverage all four projects, rather than incrementally address each project’s impact, you have the potential to make a much greater impact that would benefit the region, the city of Lebanon and the town of Hanover,” Houseman said.

Brooks, Lebanon’s planning director, said talks with developers and the hospital are ongoing. Meanwhile, the Planning Board will discuss D-H’s request to change its site plan approval when it meets at 6:30 p.m. Monday.

People can find instructions to access the meeting at LebanonNH.gov/Live.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.

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