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Small stretch requires big fix

  • Ryan Boisvert, of the New Hampshire Department of Transportation, climbs from Route 12 to the railroad running parallel while installing a temporary groundwater monitoring well in Charlestown, N.H., on Monday, Sept. 27, 2021. Route 12 is closed between Charlestown and North Walpole due to a drop in the road surface after it was undermined during a late-July storm. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News photographs — James M. Patterson

  • Damage to Route 12 in Charlestown, N.H., from a late-July storm is shown on Monday, Sept. 27, 2021. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • A New Hampshire Department of Transportation crew preserved Cores of schist and quartz from a temporary well drilled to monitor the amount of groundwater flowing under a railroad bed and Route 12 in Charlestown, N.H., on Monday, Sept. 27, 2021. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Kevin Stetson, plant manager at Connecticut River AG Services in Walpole, N.H., finishes up a day of work with, from back left, Hunter Cannon, Ryan Patnode, and Koltin Stetson, on Monday, Sept. 27, 2021. Trips and commutes from the plant to Charlestown, where the company has a second plant, have been increased by 15 minutes because of the closure of Route 12 between the two towns. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News photographs — James M. Patterson

Valley News Correspondent
Published: 9/27/2021 9:05:29 PM
Modified: 9/27/2021 9:05:30 PM

CHARLESTOWN — Charlestown businesses say they have been hit hard by the closure of Route 12 south of town since early August, with a noticeable decrease in normal customer counts, and some are questioning whether officials in Concord are doing all they can to reopen the state highway.

“It has slowed foot traffic in here,” said Jan Bailey, owner of Depot Home Center off Main Street. “A lot of our customers (from the south) are not coming here. They are going to the competition.”

Bailey’s comment was repeated by others who depend on the flow of cars along the major north-south road between Claremont and Keene on the New Hampshire side of the Connecticut River.

Bailey said at times Charlestown resembles a ghost town when you can look both north and south on Main Street and there may not be a car in sight. “Before, you would always have to wait before turning,” Bailey said.

The problem with a 600-foot section of road is also forcing Charlestown students who attend Fall Mountain Regional High School to detour on dirt roads, which could become a problem during winter.

The road closure from the north begins at the intersection of Almar and Main streets just south of downtown Charlestown but motorists are advised to take the Interstate 91 detour more than a mile north of the business district. At the southern end, the road is closed from a bit north of the Route 12 and 12A intersection.

Gary Stoddard, owner of Ralph’s Supermarket on Main Street, has also seen a drop off in business.

“We have lost so much traffic,” Stoddard said. “We used to get a lot of people driving through town from the north or south and they would stop in but now they get on the interstate before they even get to town. Basically, they are bypassing the center of town.”

Across Main Street from Ralph’s is a game and hobby store, Cobb and Co. LLC, which opened in 2019.

“It’s bad,” said owner Joseph Cobb, when asked about the drop in business. “I would say we have lost 90% of our drive-by customers. We definitely see the impact on in-store traffic.”

The road was closed after a heavy rainstorm in late July washed down the slope of the railroad embankment just yards to the east, overflowed a drainage area and flooded onto Route 12. The runoff compromised the slope west of the road, causing a slumping of the southbound lane, said Jason Ayotte, project engineer with the state Department of Transportation.

A second factor in the road failure was an increase in the size of the “voids” under a concrete slab about six inches beneath the pavement. Ayotte said July’s unusually high rainfall saturated the soil and raised the groundwater, which washed away the silty, sandy soil and made the voids bigger over time.

“The voids under the slab caused the road to settle,” he added.

A temporary solution to get at least one lane open has been suggested by Albert St. Pierre, a co-owner of St. Pierre Sand and Gravel in Charlestown.

“In my world — 40 years of doing this — you take out the guardrail, haul in 8,000 yards of gravel so it doesn’t slide anymore and then dig this and put four feet of gravel in here and pave it and get this stretch reopened,” St. Pierre said, standing on the closed section of road recently. “I could have it done in two weeks.”

Ayotte said the proximity of the rail line, which sits about 20 feet above the road, means DOT crews cannot work on the road until the railroad embankment is stabilized.

“The road is acting as a buttress holding the railroad embankment in place,” Ayotte said. “As we did our geotechnical analysis, we found out any removal of the roadway would actually compromise the railway so it is a very risky situation because it could introduce additional failure with the railroad. Just rock would not stabilize the embankment.”

Best estimates for reopening the road are late winter because the railroad embankment has to be stabilized before any road work can begin, Ayotte said.

Ayotte said a complicated process called “soil-nail wall construction” is being designed to stabilize the embankment and it will take six to eight weeks to complete.

“It allows us to do top-down construction,” Ayotte said. “It is a better way to go without impacting the floodplain or wetlands.”

Ayotte said they will drill holes into the embankment and insert steel rods every five feet for about 400 feet and grout them in place. The edge of the rods will have wire mesh, shot with concrete, to create a wall and lock everything in place. A second row of rods will be inserted five feet deeper so the wall, which will have a trapezoid shape — wider at the top than bottom — will be 10 feet deep. “Specialty contractors will be needed to do that work,” he said.

DOT has reached out to several soil-nail contractors and Ayotte said he is “confident” they will be available in November and December when construction work slows down.

Ayotte said DOT officials met and conveyed plans and information to the railroad on Monday and also posted announcements about the project on its “invitation to bid” website.

“It is really complicated with the railroad,” he said. “We did not realize the extent of the damage and how bad the soil conditions were. We were expecting a traditional slope repair.”

The preliminary cost estimate to repair the state road is between $3 million and $3.5 million, Ayotte said

Tom Ciuba, vice president of communications for the railroad owner, Genesee & Wyoming Railroad of Darien, Conn., said in an email Friday that the railroad, which runs two to four freight trains a day on the tracks in addition to the twice-a-day Amtrak service, is working cooperatively with the state to expedite repair work

“New England Central Railroad recognizes that Route 12 is a critical roadway for the community and, as such, is doing our part to move the project along as safely and quickly as possible,” Ciuba said. “We have granted contractors access to our right of way next to the highway through late November and expect to review an updated project concept next week.”

Some in town have questioned whether the state is doing all it can to reopen the road and wonder whether everything would move faster if the damaged road were on the other side of the state near the more populated regions.

“I’m not blaming the state this happened but I am blaming it for its inaction,” said Bob Beaudry, owner of a Charlestown trucking business, Beaudry Enterprises. “All I’m trying to do is get across to the state, if this were on another road in the state, maybe it gets done sooner.”

Beaudry’s business, which also has a fertilizer plant in North Walpole, uses Route 12 frequently with its trucks hauling construction, agricultural and other materials. Drivers now need to go on narrow, winding back roads to get around the closure or Interstate 91, both of which add time and costs to each trip. As an example, Beaudry said a roundtrip to Marlborough, N.H., is quoted at $300.

“Now it takes 40 minutes more a load. That is 40 times three (loads a day). Who is going to pay for that? I can’t just charge more. Route 12 is an important stretch of road for this town. I would think they could come up with some sort of Band-Aid.”

Alyssa Bascom, a member of the Fall Mountain Regional School District School Board, said she is not sure state officials fully understand the impact the road closure is having.

“It is affecting every single person who lives in Charlestown, works or lives in Walpole or works in Claremont,” Bascom said. “It is massively disruptive to the high school. This (600 foot section) is a tiny piece but it is changing every person’s life right now.”

To bus Charlestown students to the high school in Langdon, four buses need an extra 10 mins to travel the Acworth Road then South Hemlock Road into Langdon, where it turns to dirt.

“These are small roads that are fairly narrow,” Bascom said. “This has really affected Charlestown and getting to the high school.”

Arthur Lufkin, transportation manager for the school district, said they considered using the interstate but that added more than 30 minutes to the high school trip. Additionally, Lufkin said he believes the students are safer traveling at a slower speed on back roads in the winter than they would be going more than 50 mph on the interstate when black ice can appear out of nowhere. “That is more dangerous.”

Back on Main Street, another business owner said the closure has put the small retail businesses on a “dead end street.”

“Are we going to make it? Yes. But our traffic count is half of what it should be,” said Dan Pelkey, owner of Dan’s Max Saver, a discount and tool store. “My guess is every business on both ends of this mishap is feeling it.”

Ayotte said DOT is moving as fast as it can and that bids will be due in seven days after advertised to expedite the process, shorter than the typical three weeks.

“We are certainly working hard,” he said. “The team is struggling with complicated soil conditions and it has been a big challenge with so many people involved. We certainly feel for the community because it cannot be easy having a detour of that magnitude.”

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.




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