Plainfield residents oppose raising speed limit along Route 120

Valley News Correspondent
Published: 9/5/2019 8:18:49 AM
Modified: 9/5/2019 10:01:04 PM

PLAINFIELD — Residents this week told a New Hampshire Department of Transportation traffic engineer they adamantly oppose a proposal to raise the speed limits on sections of Route 120 in Plainfield.

And as the roughly one-hour Selectboard hearing Wednesday night wound down with public comment clearly opposed to the increases, Town Administrator Steve Halleran asked State Traffic Engineer William Lambert what the next step would be once the comment period was over.

Lambert, who made it clear earlier in the evening the state would never force speed limit changes without support of residents and local law enforcement, said if he gets a “hell no,” from the town he would let it “fall by the wayside.”

Ken Goodrow, who lives along Route 120 and spoke against raising the speed limits, suggested to Halleran the town’s response.

“We appreciate the study, but hell, no,” Goodrow said.

Lambert’s recommendations in Plainfield include raising the speed limit for a nearly !-mile section between Croydon Turnpike and Old Stage Coach road from 35 mph to 45. (That increase would extend to Barden Hill in Lebanon, where the limit is currently 40).

Goodrow said motorists already are coming by his house near the Methodist Hill intersection with Route 120 at 45 mph and raising the limit will only increase that.

“They will be going by at a minimum of 55 10 minutes after the signs are up,” said Goodrow, who told Lambert he has seen pets hit and a car T-boned while backing out of a driveway. “To me, 35 to 45 makes no sense.”

Suzanne Spencer, who lives in the same section that Goodrow does, agreed.

“If you raise it to 45, people treat it as a minimum and will go 55 to 60,” Spencer said.

Others expressed similar opposition to the changes, which also would include increasing the posted speed limit between Andrews Lane and Red Hill Road from 35 to 40 mph.

Lambert opened the meeting by explaining that the study grew out of a request to change the 35 mph speed limit in Cornish Flat and rather than do one small segment of the road, the DOT conducted a comprehensive study of a 20-mile stretch from Lebanon to Claremont. He detailed the state laws that govern setting speed limits, which are based on several factors including the concentration of residential homes, businesses, proximity to the road and access points.

The speed study was conducted at 11 points along the 20-mile section, Lambert said in a July letter to the Selectboard.

A key piece of data in recommending raising the speed limits was the “measured 85th percentile speeds,” Lambert said, which indicates the percentage of drivers going a particular speed. The 85th percentile in segment 4 (between Old Stage Coach Road and Croydon Turnpike) was 48 mph, 13 mph more than the posted limit, which was about the same as two segments to the north that extend into Lebanon to Barden Hill Road.

One resident commented that it appeared the speed limits were being raised simply because people were going faster even though some sections remain dangerous. But Lambert disagreed.

“Please understand that we are in no way proposing that motorists travel faster on these segments. We are simply recommending speed limits that are credible for conditions so that they would be respected by the majority of drivers,” Lambert wrote in his July 29 letter to the Selectboard and reiterated at Wednesday’s hearing.

Lambert told the audience of about 20 that “traffic speed” and speed limit are not always the same and lower speed limits that are not “credible” are ultimately disrespected by drivers.

“The reality is, people are going faster,” Lambert said at one point.

Jennie Chamberlain, a Hanover resident who drives her daughter to Plainfield to play soccer, said the state needs a different perspective on how it views a road like Route 120.

“We need to treat it more as a public space and less as a place to let people drive as fast as they can,” Chamberlain said.

Rebecca Owens, with the Planning Department in Lebanon, also spoke against increasing the limits in her community along Route 120, telling Lambert of complaints to police about excessive speed. Also being considered by Lebanon is lowering limits in the city from 30 to 25 mph based on public comment and the desire to make the street more pedestrian-friendly, Owens said.

There were no recommendations in Lambert’s report to change the speed limits in any of the sections in either Cornish or Claremont.

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




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