NHDOT Answers Questions on Traffic Safety on Route 4

Sep 12, 2019

The eastern branch of Route 4 from Concord to Northwood is one of New Hampshire's busiest highway stretches during rush hour.
Credit Dan Tuohy / NHPR

This summer, NHPR has brough you stories from along Route 4 in New Hampshire. 

The roadway stretches across the state, covering many regions from the Seacoast to the Vermont border. That's a lot of road to manage.

Bill Lambert is a statewide administrator and traffic engineer for the New Hampshire Department of Transportation. He sat down with NHPR's Morning Edition Host Rick Ganley to answer some listener questions about traffic and road safety along Route 4.

(Editor's note: this transcript has been edited lightly for clarity.)

Credit Sara Plourde / NHPR

First, let's just clarify which parts of Route 4 [NHDOT] is actually responsible for and which parts of Route 4 are the local municipalities’ responsibility. There seems to be some confusion about that with listeners.

Right. The U.S. Route 4 extends within New Hampshire's borders from the Connecticut River in Lebanon all the way to Portsmouth, Dover area, where it coincides with I-95. The only part of that that's within an urban compact, and that's a statutory term referring to locations where the municipalities are responsible for maintaining the highways, is in Lebanon. So from the Connecticut River to about with the new middle school is would be the city of Lebanon's jurisdiction, and then everything else is the state of New Hampshire.

Okay. So the vast majority obviously is a state highway. We received a lot of questions about traffic along the eastern half, which of course, gets crowded with drivers commuting between the seacoast and Concord. Are there any recent projects or planned projects to reduce accident rates or increase safety along that portion of Route 4?

There's one that was completed not too long ago at the Lee circle, which was constructed from the 1970s, vintage rotary type of an operation to a two lane roundabout. If people remember how that worked before that project was completed, the backups east, west, north, south, depending on the commuting hour, would extend for a mile or more. And once the project was completed, we get complaints about safety with it. But the reality is all that traffic that used to be in the backup is now in the circle moving efficiently around the circle. So that was one probably huge project, the biggest one in that area.

Reworking those roundabouts to make them two lanes. Does that confuse people? I mean, I imagine that's not something that people routinely, at least in New England, encounter.

"I see a lot of things, a lot of the hidden treasures that are along state highways that I come to appreciate over time."

I think that's a complicated question. I think we hear public input that says they're confused and that people don't know what to do, and people say they avoid using it. But when we observe it, the people that are confused tend to be more cautious. Where in the old design, they were entering the circle at relatively high speeds and then the crashes tended to be pretty severe.

Now you get people that might be annoyed at somebody that's doing something wrong, but they're moving at a slower speed and they have more opportunity to avoid the crashes. And because of the volume that's in the intersection at the same time compared to what it was with one lane in each direction, people just perceive that there's near misses. But we also think that they're more cautious. Initially, I think the crash rate might have spiked up a little bit because of the newness of it. But I think as people got accustomed to it, the crash rates have come down and we hear much fewer complaints.

One listener who lives just off Route 4 in Rollinsford, asks about the future of the Route 4 in general. How can it safely support the population growth, especially in that eastern portion?

That section of Route 4 was built at a pretty high standard -- wide shoulders, fairly wide lanes, pretty flat and straight. So it's a route that most people are using to get between Berwick and Dover. And the challenge is trying to develop a complete street type of design where people intuitively feel like they need to slow down. Right now, there's not really anything on that road that slows people down. So it's coming up with ways to to make it look like a village setting. So there's potential for that, but you have to change the character of the road to change the way people drive it.

It's about people's perceptions of what the road is. If it's just a quick connecting route, or if it's something that they feel are in a residential area and they need to slow down.

That's right.

I'm wondering if you have any favorite spots along Route 4.

I live in Boscawen. So I guess I'm going to start with the town that I live in -- it's the King Street in Boscawen. When you take the time to walk it and you look at the historic properties along the side and living in town and know what some of that history is, I think that's pretty unique. I think when you're driving west through Boscawen and you get that Route 3-4 split with the the iconic church in front of it, that's one of my favorites.

I'm a fan of Johnson's Dairy Bar. I think that stop in Northwood is, I think everybody's favorite going back and forth between the seacoast. I have the luxury of working in a job where I'm responsible for every inch of every state road in the state. So I see a lot of things, a lot of the hidden treasures that are along state highways that I come to appreciate over time. I think when you get to that stretch Route 4 between Andover and Enfield, it's kind of a part of the state that people don't get to a whole lot. And I kind of appreciate the opportunity to see that part of the state.

Explore the Route 4 series:

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