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Monday, July 7, 2014

Regional planning group mulling future of 101A

NASHUA – With significant congestion backing up vehicles on Route 101A, members of the Nashua Regional Planning Commission are asking state transportation officials, and cities and towns across the region, what kinds of solutions might alleviate traffic in the future.

Staffers from the regional planning group recently met with members of Nashua’s aldermanic Planning and Economic Development Committee to start mulling over the problems facing the roadway. ...

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NASHUA – With significant congestion backing up vehicles on Route 101A, members of the Nashua Regional Planning Commission are asking state transportation officials, and cities and towns across the region, what kinds of solutions might alleviate traffic in the future.

Staffers from the regional planning group recently met with members of Nashua’s aldermanic Planning and Economic Development Committee to start mulling over the problems facing the roadway.

NRPC is asking communities in Greater Nashua to begin thinking about public and private investments to improvement transportation that are feasible in the near future.

NRPC also is making the case to the New Hampshire Department of Transportation that 101A – a hub of economic activity – should be viewed as a regional concern.

The East-to-West highway connects Nashua to five communities, stretching 12.6 miles to Wilton. It serves as a conduit for commuters west of the Gate City to reach the F.E. Everett Turnpike, and also is a focal point for business growth.

Traffic on 101A has long been a concern, but the issue has become more exacerbated over the years, NRPC Executive Director Kerrie Diers said last week.

“One of the things that we’ve heard over and over again in the region is East-West travel is very challenging, and … particularly 101A,” she said.

The highway started as a two-lane country road extending west from Nashua until it was upgraded in the mid-1970s.

One major improvement was construction of the Milford bypass, which enabled easier access from the west. Another improvement was the building of the Somerset Parkway in the 1980s, a move that provided easier access to the turnpike.

Then in the 1990s, the Camp Sargent Road bypass in Merrimack provided an alternative route to travel between Continental Boulevard and the highway.

Today, Nashua, Merrimack and Amherst enjoy high-density development along the corridor, with housing, retail stores, educational facilities, restaurants and other businesses flocking to 101A.

Approximately 85 percent of all jobs in the region are located within a quarter mile of the main roads – the turnpike and 101A. Nashua accounts for 52 percent of jobs in the region; Merrimack supplies a little shy of 20 percent.

About a quarter of the region’s population commutes to Massachusetts for work, but almost 60 percent of workers stay in the region, making East-to-West travel all the more important for future planning decisions.

“It’s a really important destination,” Diers said, discussing 101A’s significance, “and one that I think we don’t really recognize as being as important as it is for the economy of the whole region.”

NRPC’s long-term transportation plan calls for widening projects to help alleviate some of the congestion on 101A, although NRPC staffers caution that adding lanes won’t solve all of the traffic problems.

The group is hoping to explore alternatives such as expanding Nashua’s public transit system and encouraging bicycling and other modes of travel.

Diers said that a statewide poll conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center showed many people in the state – about 71 percent – favor using transportation dollars to maintain existing roads and bridges.

Expanding rail or bus service between major cities was the second highest priority.

Expanding transportation for seniors and people with special needs registered at third place, receiving a level of support that was about equal to the support for improving bicycle and pedestrian options, she said.

NRPC is looking now to Nashua and other communities to gauge how residents feel about those options.

“Nobody really feels safe walking or biking on that corridor, so are there ways that we can reimagine that corridor that would make alternative modes more attractive?” she said.

Jim Haddadin can be reached at 594-6589 or jhaddadin@nashua
telegraph.com. Also, follow Haddadin on Twitter (@Telegraph_JimH).