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Monday, July 14, 2014

Study: New exit could cut traffic by 20 percent on D.W. Highway

NASHUA – Constructing a new southbound exit on the F.E. Everett Turnpike could significantly reduce travel times and congestion on the Daniel Webster Highway in Nashua, according to a new study, which found that an off-ramp at Exit 36 could be a linchpin for economic development in the area.

The study projected that building a southbound off-ramp at Exit 36 could lower traffic volume by 20 percent on the Daniel Webster Highway, south of Spit Brook Road. ...

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NASHUA – Constructing a new southbound exit on the F.E. Everett Turnpike could significantly reduce travel times and congestion on the Daniel Webster Highway in Nashua, according to a new study, which found that an off-ramp at Exit 36 could be a linchpin for economic development in the area.

The study projected that building a southbound off-ramp at Exit 36 could lower traffic volume by 20 percent on the Daniel Webster Highway, south of Spit Brook Road.

For the average driver, the change would translate into
saving up to seven minutes on a trip south toward the Pheasant Lane Mall, the study found.

The findings were included in a draft report released in June about the potential benefits of constructing a new southbound off-ramp at Exit 36 near the border of New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

The study is being undertaken jointly by the Nashua Regional Planning Commission and the Northern Middlesex Council of Governments in Massachusetts.

Getting the exit constructed is high on the wish list for Nashua officials, since it’s expected the new off-ramp would alleviate congestion throughout the area.

Traffic counts from fall 2012 showed nearly 40,000 cars travel on the Daniel Webster Highway on a typical Saturday. The highest traffic volume was recorded just south of Spit Brook Road, where drivers who take Exit 1 off the turnpike end up.

Traffic decreases steadily as you head south on the Daniel Webster Highway – presumably because drivers are reaching retail destinations along the way.

A new Exit 36 South would deposit drivers near the entrance to the Pheasant Lane Mall in Massachusetts.

It would connect drivers with the existing Exit 36 off-ramp on the northbound side of the turnpike – known as Route 3 before it crosses into New Hampshire.

The exit would allow drivers to bypass the dense retail corridor along Daniel Webster Highway to reach the mall and destinations in Massachusetts.

The exit also is being eyed as a positive step toward bringing passenger rail service back to southern New Hampshire. It would bring cars directly to the site where planners hope to build a new transit center outside the mall.

A previous study put the price tag for the new exit at $17 million.

The latest findings indicate building the exit this year would cost roughly $16 million, although it likely would be several years before a project could get off the ground.

The study estimates that construction likely would not begin before 2020, and would take roughly two years. The price is estimated to be in the range of $21 million at that time.

The results of the study will be a vital component if New Hampshire and Massachusetts try to secure federal funding for the project in the future. NRPC will present the study’s latest findings and accept public comments at a meeting Monday night in the auditorium at Nashua City Hall, beginning at 6:30 p.m.

Freeing up traffic in the area could have major benefits, according to the study, which found that the increase in productivity would translate into an estimated savings of $2 million annually.

Alleviating the congestion also could save an estimated 89,000 gallons of fuel per year, the study found, preventing 1.8 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions and saving as much as $333,000 in fuel costs.

Beyond the Daniel Webster Highway, traffic volume is forecast to drop by about 10 percent on Spit Brook Road, east of the F.E. Everett Turnpike.

Tyngsborough, Mass., also could reap the benefits. A new southbound exit would bring drivers into the commercial area along Middlesex Road, which is viewed as an important component for future development of restaurants and other businesses.

Looking beyond the impact on vehicle traffic, the study anticipates the new exit could be a catalyst for enhanced public transportation options.

A separate review underway this year is examining the feasibility of bring passenger trains through New Hampshire’s “Capitol Corridor,” the area stretching from Boston through Nashua to Manchester and Concord.

The Capitol Corridor study has identified two potential rail stations in southern Nashua: one at the former Hampshire Chemical site off Spit Brook Road, near several residential developments, and another outside the Pheasant Lane Mall.

Both would be enhanced by the new exit, which could also spur broader bus service through the region. The study suggests the new exit could pave the way for an express bus service between the Nashua Transit System facility downtown and the Daniel Webster Highway, cutting travel times from about 30 minutes currently to 11 minutes.

The study also suggests implementing a “circulator” bus service, which could operate shuttles between northern Tyngsborough and Adventure Way in Nashua, or alternatively, take passengers on a loops around the Pheasant Lane Mall, north along the Daniel Webster Highway, west on Spit Brook Road, south along the F.E. Everett Turnpike and back to the mall via Exit 36.

The second option would hit several large residential areas along the corridor. In Nashua, more than 5,900 people live in an area measuring about one square mile around Exit 36.

“It is recommended that Massachusetts and New Hampshire officials continue to collaborate and advance the project by building political and community support, and pursuing multiple funding options for environmental permitting, right of way acquisition, engineering, design and construction,” a draft version of the study reads.

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