Exit 4A off Interstate I 93 in the Derry-Londonderry area, 30 years on the drawing board, appears about ready to come to life. Maybe.
Advantages include relieving pressure from a traffic nightmare. At Exit 4 drivers headed to Derry merge from 2 lanes to one. During rush hour that traffic slows to a standstill nearly every day.
Regional planners believe the new Exit should also boost the economy.
At a public hearing December 5 planners explained construction will carve out a new exit and bridge. The drawings place the new bridge over I-93 and exit 4A about one mile north of the existing Exit 4. The exit blazes a new road called a connector from the exit to Derry’s Folsom Road.
The new road goes east only from I-93, having nothing to do with the existing bridge over I-93 from Derry’s Ash Street to Pillsbury Road in Londonderry. The plan sees a new I-93 overpass crossing over the interstate.
New 4A Exit Separate From Existing Ash St Extension Bridge
Starting at that location about a mile north of the existing Exit 4, 4A plans connect with existing roads only to the East. The only planned road to and from 4A joins up with a re done Folsom Road in Derry near the existing intersection of north High Street and Madden Road. Road improvements extend 3.2 three miles over Tsienneto to Route 102 near Beaver Lake.
First proposals for the new exit surfaced in 1985. The current timeline sees construction starting in 2019, and finishing in 2022. Current cost estimates peg the cost at $56.8 Million dollars.
How Does Exit 4A Help Towns?
While the connector to and from Exit 4A on the current drawing board points only East, Londonderry officials endorse the plan. Town Manager Kevin Smith believes the new exit opens up some 200 acres on his town’s side. The new access fuels economic development including the huge Woodmont Commons project now in progress.
On the Derry side anyone who drives Route 102 into the town from present Exit 4 knows the forced merge in gasoline alley is a driver’s nightmare. Planners speculate the new Exit 4A will divert some of that traffic overflow away.
Derry and Londonderry committed $10 Million to the project, $5 Million each. So, one must assume town officials think the plan will benefit both towns.
To-Do List for the New Exit 4A
Planners review details hammered out over the last 30 years. At the same time numerous agencies still face tasks including:
- Special Committee of 3 Persons Appointed by the Governor & Executive Council: Independent Quasi-Judicial Body: To determine based on the evidence and testimony presented at public hearings whether there is occasion for the laying out and alteration of a limited access facility, including service roads, as presented by the Commissioner of Transportation.
- Federal Highway Administration (FHWA): Federal Lead Agency for the NEPA environmental review process and approval of the new interchange.
- U.S.Army Corps of Engineers: To receive public comment on clean water act issues relating to permit application to fill wetlands and mitigation.
- New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services: To receive public comment on the Wetland Permit Application and issues including wetland impact and mitigation.
- Towns of Londonderry & Derry: Project Co-sponsors and management of project through finalization of Environmental Impact Statement.
- New Hampshire Department of Transportation: To provide technical assistance and oversee finalization of the Environmental Impact Statement with both towns then take responsibility for final design and construction.
So with a timetable of completion by 2022 those are stars that must align in order for the project to succeed.
A Dangerous Road
Exit 4 reconstruction feeding traffic into Derry and Londonderry has been ongoing and a major part of the overall Interstate 93 widening. At the same time even the official project documents acknowledge the re-done Exit 4 will handle only traffic volume at that time, and not future levels. The area of Route 102 running east into“downtown Derry” will continue to lack sufficient capacity to handle the traffic:
“Because the existing road has insufficient lanes to handle the peak traffic volumes, the traffic backs up into the interchange area, which results in increased safety hazards for the traveling public”.
NHDOT Project No. 13065 project document I-93 Exit 4A SDEIS, Chapter 2, p. 2-5, Sec 2.2.3
2013-2015 crash data shows troublesome crash rates in and around the current Exit 4. Between 2010 and 2014, a total of 716 crashes were reported in the Exit 4A study area. That number included 240 crashes along Route 102 between Exit 4 and Tsienetto Road. Some 24 percent resulted in injury or fatality. So a major idea driving the Exit 4A project is getting traffic away from Exit 4, diverting it to the new exit.
Roads, Traffic and More
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see traffic is a nightmare.
The portions of Interstate 93 running through southern NH were designed and built in the 1960s. They were designed to handle 60-thousand to 70-thousand vehicles per day. Current traffic between the Massachusetts-NH state line and Exit 1 in Salem averages over 100-thousand per day. Planners expect that to go up to 140-thousand by 2020.
Derry’s population ranks number 4 in New Hampshire. Numbers from the last several U.S. Census counts place Derry fourth only behind Manchester, Nashua and Concord in that order.
At the same time local roads conjure up images of the famous “cow paths” forming the original basis for today’s crazy Boston streets. Drivers can only hope that planners and others behind the 4A project possess something close to a crystal ball. Reduced traffic backups and safer roads make a better driving experience and might lead to the economic growth planners talk about.
Long and Winding Road?
Thinking about writing this blog article I thought about a clever tie-in to a song. Writers sometimes use themes or “pegs” to make a story more interesting. Highway to Hell? Nah, not fair to people who have to live in the surrounding towns. Life is a Highway? Catchy tune, nice guitar work but “I wanna drive it all night long?” No. Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again” came to mind, classic, but not quite right.
The Long and Winding Road? Well, the Beatles lasted only eight years from their first record contract in 1962 until they broke up in 1970, releasing The Long and Winding Road. Exit 4A is going on 33 years since it was first proposed with the first shovel full of dirt yet to be dug as of this writing. So, I gave up on a musical theme.
NH Department of Transportation official Exit 4A Project Website with documents & Maps. Link Here
Vital Signs, New Hampshire Social and Economic Indicators, Chapter 7, Transportation & Traffic, New Hampshire Interstate Expansion.
For what to do after an accident click here.