A study to examine the cost and economic impact of adding two more lanes to sections of Route 106 will begin early next year, according to the state Department of Transportation. The study, which is being funded in part by the New Hampshire Motor Speedway, will also look at traffic volume to see if the widening is necessary.
"The track is definitely interested in Route 106, and we are interested in it because it continues to grow as a commuter corridor," said Bill Cass, director of project development for the New Hampshire Department of Transportation.
Route 106 runs from East Concord to Meredith, passing through Loudon, Belmont and Laconia along the way. The study will examine widening the road from Concord to Belmont, but the most detailed data collection will focus on the stretch from Concord to the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, Cass said.
A similar study conducted in 1993 found that the road widening was economically and environmentally feasible, but not necessary given the traffic patterns at the time, he said.
Route 106 currently has one lane in each direction. It also has a middle turn lane and dedicated turn lanes at some intersections, improvements made after the 1993 study and compatible with future widening.
The Department of Transportation wants to freshen up the data from the earlier study and to re-evaluate the project in terms of new environmental regulations or concerns that may have emerged in the last 15 years, he said.
Jerry Gappens, executive vice president and general manager for the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, is pleased the Department of Transportation is moving forward with the study.
"We've had several meetings with DOT officials and Gov. Lynch," Gappens said.
"We've owned the track for two-and-a-half years. We got to looking into things and found that a lot of the right of way for Route 106 had been purchased for widening, but for some unknown reason, it got put on a shelf. We wanted to find out what needs to happen to get it taken off the shelf again," he said.
Cass said that the study is preliminary and only meant to collect information about Route 106. Study results, he said, would be shared with all the towns affected by the possible widening, so that residents and town officials could weigh in on if they thought it was a good idea.
Gappens said he believes that the Department of Transportation is serious about pursuing the widening. The study is the first step in making the project ready for construction if and when federal funds become available, he said.
The track has volunteered to pay for one-third of the cost of the study, which is being conducted by New York-based consulting firm McFarland Johnson for a total of about $300,000, Gappens said.
"There's a need for (the expansion) right now, for people who use the highway on a daily basis. There are backups at traffic lights during rush hour. It would also help in economic development and attract businesses to 106" he said. Plus, he added, the widening would be great for the big race weekends. More than 40,000 cars travel the state route on the Sundays of big race weekends, he said.
Roger Maxfield, chair of the board of selectmen in Loudon, said there is nothing wrong with looking into the widening to get more information, but there's not necessarily anything wrong with Route 106, either.
"I think everyone in Loudon tends to think that it's fine the way it is," Maxfield said.
He said that undertaking a road construction project like that would cost a lot of money and take several years to complete. He said he doesn't know if the state will back a project that big.
He also said he was concerned about the project's effect on Rocky Pond. Route 106 runs right near the pond's eastern side for about a mile. Wetlands, too, may be affected, Maxfield said.
James Martin, spokesman for the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, said that the department was not aware of the study. If a project is announced, he said, the department will be involved in formal studies about environmental impact.
Tom Irwin, state director for the Conservation Law Foundation, said his organization had not heard of the study, either.
In general, he said, widening roads comes with a package of environmental concerns that vary depending on the project. Adding more pavement means more storm water runoff and flood threats, and runoff can often carry pollutants such as chloride from road salt and motor oil from cars, he said. Filling in wetlands, he added, is always controversial and is regulated at the state level.
Cass said that the public information sessions presenting the results of the study - including information about the traffic patterns and congestion, the cost and the environmental aspects - will begin as soon as next fall.
"We open it up to comment," Cass said. "We want people to let us know what we got right and what we got wrong."