State Gears Up for Widening of Interstate 93, Exit 4-A

While work will begin on the widening of Interstate 93 in a little more than a year, the companion Exit 4-A off the highway will take a little longer as the two towns involved, the New Hampshire Department of Transportation (DOT) and the firm conducting an environmental study freshen the details of what will happen.

The widening of I-93 in the northern section will begin in spring 2016 and be completed in 2020, Pete Stamnas, project manager for the DOT, said in a phone interview Monday.

The widening of the road from Windham to Manchester will have minimal effect on Derry proper, Stamnas said. “Obviously, the work near Exit 4 will have an effect on anyone who’s driving on I-93,” he said.

The first part of the project will go from Waystation 2 in Windham to Kendall Pond Road in Derry, with a portion of the work in Windham and a portion in Derry. That will be reconstructing and widening a three-mile stretch of road, Stamnas said.

The project will also involve the rehabbing of two bridges, the Fordway Extension bridge in Derry and the North Lowell Road bridge in Windham.

It will also involve construction of 1,700 linear feet of sound wall in the neighborhood adjacent to Derryfield Road, Stamnas said.

Stamnas said he is expecting few road closures. The department’s policy, he said, is to maintain the existing traffic lanes, as it did with the recent widening from Salem to Windham.

“There may be nighttime closures, but for peak time it will be two lanes in each direction,” he said. “It’s one of our core traffic principles.”

For Exit 4-A it’s more complicated. Stamnas said both Derry and Londonderry, which have each pledged $5 million for the environmental impact study (EIS), have asked DOT to take a more active role in its completion. “DOT is taking administrative control,” Stamnas said.

The EIS, which is being conducted by the firm CLD and was begun in 2007, will have to be reevaluated, Stamnas said. “So much time has elapsed, we need to make sure the information is correct,” he said. “Based on what we find, we may consider changes.”

While the towns are committed to the $5 million, Derry has already contributed close to $1 million for the study, he said, reducing its balance.

The majority of the funds will be raised by the 4 cent per gallon gas tax increase, he said. “DOT will find the money for the remainder of the project,” he said.

The three parties involved, Derry, Londonderry and the DOT, are expected to sign an agreement this winter. The DOT is developing the language now, he said.

The road repair is “desperately” needed, State Rep. John O’Connor, R-Derry, said. He had a 30-year commute on I-93 before retiring and said the need is crucial. “People have died on that stretch,” O’Connor said.

While “naysayers” are upset about the gas tax, championed by former State Sen. Jim Rausch, a Derry Republican, O’Connor said the economic benefit will outweigh it. With wider highways the tourist business in the North Country will expand, he said.

“I-93 is the pulse of New Hampshire, the route for all the skiers and hikers to get up north,” he said. And the current lower gas prices will lure ATV (all-terrain vehicles) and snowmobile enthusiasts.

“It can be nothing but a benefit,” O’Connor said.

Town Administrator Galen Stearns said he is trying to arrange a series of meetings to get Derry “up to speed” on the current status of 4-A.

Defining the status of Exit 4-A was a goal of the current Town Council, which determined to find out once and for all what the town’s obligation is. Central to the issue was the fact that no one could find the actual contract where Derry committed to the project. But after research and many meetings, the Derry Town Council formalized its relationship with the proposed Exit 4-A this summer.

While a diligent search of archives produced no official contract, Council Chair Mark Osborne said his research showed that the town had given tacit consent to participating in the project. Osborne said while Derry never signed a contract, its other actions resulted in a “moral obligation” to honor the commitment.