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Dartmouth College Proposes Adding a Traffic Light as Part of West End Expansion

  • A rendering of the Thayer Engineering and Computer Science expansion, looking west. (Courtesy Dartmouth College)

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 8/31/2018 12:07:04 AM
Modified: 8/31/2018 8:31:21 AM

Hanover — Dartmouth College is proposing to install a new traffic signal on West Wheelock Street, the major thoroughfare between Norwich and downtown Hanover, as part of a $200 million expansion in the west end of its campus.

The expansion at the Thayer School of Engineering, expected to be laid out in filings to the Planning Board next week, comes as Dartmouth awaits a ruling on another major project on the other side of campus.

The traffic signal at West Wheelock and West streets also would serve the entrance to nearby Thayer Drive, which would be converted to an access road leading to a new parking garage in the project.

Dartmouth mentioned the traffic light on its website on Thursday in a news release announcing its intention to file plans next week for a 160,000-square-foot building that would include Thayer School of Engineering, Dartmouth’s Department of Computer Science, the ​​​​Magnuson Family Center for Entrepreneurship and Dartmouth’s electron microscopy facility.

The $200 million project, to be built on the site of a parking lot just east of Thayer Drive, would have three stories above ground, topped by a mechanical penthouse, and also include the three-level underground parking garage for 340 cars.

It also would connect with other buildings just to the north of it in the Thayer complex, specifically MacLean Engineering Sciences Center and Cummings Hall.

“We are looking forward to working with the town to move the project to the next phase,” John Scherding, Dartmouth’s associate vice president for planning, design, and construction, said in a statement on the college website.

Dartmouth hopes to begin work on the parking garage next spring, and the above-ground portion of the building late next year, but first needs site plan approval from the Planning Board.

More than 9,230 cars a day travel eastbound on West Wheelock Street from the Ledyard Bridge, according to 2015 traffic counts by the New Hampshire Department of Transportation. And Dartmouth said at the peak rush hour between 7:15 a.m. and 8:15 a.m., 1,036 vehicles are traveling eastbound.

Similarly, 1,059 vehicles are traveling westbound toward Norwich between 4:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. on the typical weekday.

As part of the West End project, Dartmouth last month won Planning Board approval to rebuild and reopen Old Tuck Drive to eastbound vehicular traffic, which will draw many of the commuters headed to that part of campus.

Asked about the safety of a traffic signal at West Street, halfway up the hill between the Connecticut River and the Dartmouth green, college officials said it would be an overall improvement.

“This intersection is not at a particularly steep part of the hill, so there is not a concern about the winter months. This is already a tricky intersection, so we expect the changes will increase safety for those on foot, on bikes and in cars,” Dartmouth spokeswoman Diana Lawrence said via email.

“Those who are heading into campus, or through campus, will also have an alternate route on Old Tuck Drive,” meaning there would be fewer cars on West Wheelock Street.

Robert Houseman, Hanover’s director of planning, zones and codes, said the town has had “preliminary discussions” with Dartmouth about the West Wheelock Street intersection but that final design plans and an engineering analysis have not been submitted yet.

“The light phases will be designed to limit delays on West Wheelock, provide safe pedestrian access across West Wheelock and improve access to Engineering Drive,” Houseman said in an email, referring to another road near the Thayer buildings.

Meanwhile, college and town officials both await a New Hampshire Supreme Court ruling on a project off South Park Street — an appeal by Dartmouth of a Planning Board decision to deny site plan approval for a 70,000-square-foot indoor practice facility.

During oral arguments in June, Bruce Felmly, the attorney representing Dartmouth, argued that the project was “in complete compliance with all site plan regulations,” included a 150-foot buffer from homes along nearby Tyler Road; and was in a field that was already containing part of the major athletic complex on campus.

In questioning, according to a video of the hearing, at least one justice appeared skeptical of the rationale of Planning Board members who voted to deny the permit on the basis that the project was not “harmonious and aesthetically pleasing,” suggesting that was too subjective a standard.

But David Rayment, an attorney arguing on behalf of the Planning Board ruling, said taking “general considerations” about the project into account would be appropriate.

“This building is big enough to put a 747 in, big enough to put 10 houses in,” he said. “It’s being put right up against where the zone starts to change to a residential neighborhood.”

A ruling from the court is expected within the next few months.

John P. Gregg can be reached at jgregg@vnews.com.




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