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Dartmouth Details Thayer Expansion

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

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 10/3/2018 12:26:03 AM
Modified: 10/3/2018 12:26:53 AM

Hanover — The team behind a proposed $200 million expansion of the west end of the Dartmouth College campus answered questions from the Planning Board and the public about how the community might be affected by changes to traffic, noise and light levels.

“I have all sorts of questions,” Kevin Purcell said during the Tuesday night meeting. Purcell owns five residential apartment buildings along West Wheelock Street just south of West Street, which is right where the college and town planners have indicated they’d like to add a traffic signal and a turning lane.

Purcell, one of a handful of people in attendance, said he supported the project.

But he asked whether the planners had considered how his renters could be impacted by the changes along West Wheelock, which would include widening the road so that the curb would extend to the edge of the existing sidewalk.

“Is there any landscaping planned for there?” Purcell asked. “How will those lights impact the buildings and the units?”

“Good question,” said John Scherding, Dartmouth’s associate vice president for planning, design and construction, and one of eight presenters who came to talk to the Planning Board. “We haven’t discussed that. We’re still open to looking at it.”

The bulk of the project will take place high above Wheelock Street, where a timeline calls for excavation for a three-level, 348-space underground parking garage to begin in January. The garage would accompany a new 160,000-square-foot expansion of the Thayer School of Engineering. Thayer Drive, which currently serves as a through street for cars accessing farther reaches of the campus, would instead end at the new garage. Cars that want to access the far reaches of the campus would need to use Old Tuck Drive, a street a little farther downhill on West Wheelock which would be reopened to shift that traffic to the campus periphery.

Planners said that shifting traffic from Thayer Drive to Old Tuck Drive would be a major step forward in a master plan that envisions a west campus that sees only minimal traffic for special events and emergencies.

“We’re going from what is very much a vehicle-dominated environment and turning it into more of a pedestrian environment,” said Erica Wygonik, a transportation planning director for Resource Systems Group, the White River Junction-based engineering firm that conducted traffic studies for the project.

After hearing about various aspects of the project — lighting, landscaping and anticipated noise levels — Planning Board members, acting under the direction of Chairwoman Judith Esmay, decided to focus the evening’s meeting on traffic impacts.

Wygonik said the intersection of West Wheelock Street, Thayer Drive and West Street “has been on the cusp” of needing a traffic signal and a crosswalk for a long time.

“It’s an odd intersection,” she said. “There’s a lot going on.”

Dartmouth and town planners also are collaborating on a West Street sidewalk project.

The plan also comes with recommendations to retime the existing traffic lights along Wheelock at Main Street and River Road.

Bill Young, chairman of the town’s Biking and Pedestrian Committee, said the project was friendly to both walkers and cyclists.

“We think it’s an excellent idea to change that intersection,” he said. “That is probably one of the more dangerous intersections in the community.”

Young noted that many students ride bicycles on the sidewalks along Wheelock, and he asked the planners to consider creating a separate path for cyclists that would reduce that problem.

The new left-turn lane would be between 100 and 150 feet long, enough to hold five or six cars. Wygonik said that would be adequate, in part because inbound traffic coming up West Wheelock is heavy during the morning commute, when downhill traffic is light.

Planning Board member Iain Sim asked whether the traffic studies had allowed for the possibility that some people would drive up Thayer Drive seeking parking, only to find the garage full and drive back down.

Scherding said campus parking is typically assigned by colored tags, and any confusion among the general public likely would not last long.

“After a short period, people don’t go up there anymore because they know,” he said.

Scherding said the team currently is unsure whether the garage will be completely filled in the short term.

Esmay said the Planning Board intends to continue the discussion at a site visit in the near future.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be reached at mhonghet@vnews. com or 603-727-3211.

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