Hampton Selectmen Refuse to Sign Off on Route 1A Bridge Project

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Board Hopes to Solve Issues With State Over Reconstruction

By Patrick Cronin

Hampton Union, Friday, April 25, 2008

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]

A humid day on Friday caused fogg to cover the Hampton Beach bridge to Seabrook. [Photo by Scott Yates]

HAMPTON -- Selectmen are refusing to sign off on the state's proposed traffic management plan that will go into effect this fall when work begins on the Route 1A Hampton Harbor Bridge.

Board members unanimously voted to reject the proposal by the state Department of Transportation at its Monday night meeting on the recommendation of Town Manager Fred Welch.

"We have several concerns," Welch said. "There are certain things from a public safety point of view that should and need to be done before we sign it."

Repair work on the red-listed span, formally known as the Neil Underwood Bridge, is scheduled to begin after the Seafood Festival. The state plans to keep open one alternating 10-foot lane with a traffic light during the three-year project.

While repairs will be done with or without selectmen's approval, Welch said he's hopeful the state will want to work with town officials to resolve their public safety concerns.

One of the main concerns, Welch said, is the state's refusal to install a traffic light with a sensor that would automatically stop traffic to allow police cruisers and a fire trucks to cross in the case of an emergency.

"Because the bridge will be brought down to one lane, we need a way to get fire equipment over the bridge and to the other side of Hampton in case of an emergency," Welch said. "They can't be caught in traffic wasting valuable minutes."

Welch said another concern is the state's assistance to only use flaggers for the project and not police details.

"There are times we feel that police officers need to be there for traffic control," Welch said. "We are not saying they have to be there all the time. But when there is a holiday or when there is large component piece being installed on the bridge, like the new automatic gates, then an officer should be there."

The town's last concern deals with the fact the state has yet to come up with a plan to deal with pedestrian traffic. The state currently plans to ban pedestrians from crossing the bridge while work is being done on it.

"People need to be able to cross the bridge," Welch said.

Selectmen Chairman Bill Lally said the board would not sign the agreement until the town's concerns are fully addressed.

"My main concern is the (special) traffic light," Lally said. "An ambulance can't sit there and wait three minutes for the light to change to respond to an emergency."

Welch said if the state fails to act on the town's concerns, the selectmen could take the issue to court.

"We could go to the court to get and order but that is not part of our strategy and we do not want to do that," Welch said. "We just want to sit down with the state and use logic and reason to come to a conclusion, a conclusion based upon what is in the best interest of the safety of the public."

Repair work on the bridge, which was constructed in 1949, includes replacing the concrete deck and replacing the manual gate with an automated gate. Work will be done during the non-summer months for three construction seasons starting this fall and concluding by June 2011.

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