HAMPTON: A CENTURY OF TOWN AND BEACH, 1888-1988
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Chapter 14 -- Part 2
On March 13, 1947, the Union produced probably its largest headline when it greeted readers: "Local Group Fights Toll Road." Readers were told that 80 percent of out-of-state business would be lost to Route 1 businesses and that the State would lose $80,000 annually in gasoline taxes. Union editor Edward Seavey was named president of the Rockingham County Civic Committee, and speakers at a large local meeting included Judge John Perkins and James Tucker. The latter was among the many people who believed that Lafayette Road could and should be widened to four or six lanes. Opponents objected to the limited number of exits off the proposed superhighway, and to the State's method of taking land, and they were concerned with a prediction by State Highway Commissioner Frederic Everett that fully 80 percent of the traffic on Route 1 would be needed to pay off the bond issue. Of 100 businesses surveyed, 63 owners said they would have to close if the road was built, and the opponents predicted a local loss of $484,000 in wages.
Despite vocal opposition at various legislative hearings, oppnents had little chance of stopping the road project. The toll-road bill, then asking for $7.5 million, was passed on the last day of the 1947 session. The governor and the council formally approved the plans in the spring of 1948, and in July a number of houses and other buildings were sold at auction; one nine-room North Hampton house went for $137. Construction actually began in November 1948 and was scheduled to be ompleted in July 1950. One year before that date, the Union delighted in telling its readers that the "$7,500,000 Dream Highway" ended in the woods near Folly Mill Road in Seabrook because there was no Massachusetts highway to connect to the New Hampshire road. In fact, it was some years before the Bay State did build a connecting road, so the New Hampshire highway exited to Route 1 in Salisbury. The north end of the superhighway connected to the Route 1 bypass, which had been built 10 years earlier as part of the Maine-New Hampshire Interstate Bridge. The connection was a large traffic rotary, one that still raises the blood pressure of timid motorists.
In August 1949, both Commissioner Everett and chief engineer Daniel Dickenson resigned after a governor's investigation revealed that the State had paid $103,000 more than the actual cost of designs to Charles H. Morse, a former business partner of Dickenson's. The road construction continued, however, and the Legislature even voted an additional $300,000 to complete the project. Ironically, when the road was dedicated on Saturday, June 24, 1950, the State announced that more than $400,000 in unneeded funds was being turned back. Traffic used the road at no charge the first day, but at 6 A.M. on Sunday, the 10- to 15-cent tolls went into effect, and cars began passing through the toll gates at the rate of 2,500 an hour. On the Fourth of July weekend, 75,000 motorists used the new road, and shops along Route 1 reported up to a 40 percent decline in business. A group of local people formed the Route 1 Associates, planning to determine ways to offset the loss of business. Little could be accomplished, and for a number of years, abandoned gas stations were common along Route 1 from Seabrook to Portsmouth.
The success of the new highway soon became apparent. In 1952, the Union told its readers that the actual traffic count on Lafayette Road had dropped from 7,500 cars daily to 5,000, but at the same time, the superhighway was averaging 7,000 cars daily. "Whether the Toll Road has 'made' the 60 per cent increase in traffic hereabouts as Mr. [Chief Engineer John] Morton suggests, we do not know of one thing we are sure; if the same increase had come about without the Toll Road, it would have been impossible for the Lafayette Road to have accommodated it." By 1954, traffic volume had exceeded the engineers' predictions for the year 1960, and in 1959, five times the forecast number of vehicles used the highway, an average of 12,000 daily. In its first 10 years, some 43.6 million vehicles traveled the 15 miles. In 1962, traffic on Route 1 was up to 7,300 vehicles daily, nearly the pre-toll-road level, while the turnpike was handling 12,700 vehicles daily. By 1963, the Seacoast Regional Development Association was complaining to the State that the traffic situation on Route 1 was endangering the local economy. The Route 1 situation continues to the present. State highway engineers and local officials are discussing ways to ease the heavy traffic, which, ironically, has increased due to local population and commercial growth and the establishment of dozens of new businesses along Route 1. In 1988, 23,000 vehicles were passing through Hampton on Lafayette Road; by 2000, the traffic count is expected to exceed 30,000 vehicles daily.
When the superhighway originally opened, the section adjacent to the Massachusetts border was labeled a Blue Star Memorial Highway in honor of World War II dead. In 1953, several bridges were named as memorials: Kensington Road, Hampton Falls, named for Robert G. Lord; Exeter Road, Hampton Falls, for Lincoln Akerman; Towle Farm Road, Hampton, as Pacific Memorial Bridge; and Exeter Road, Hampton, as Atlantic Memorial Bridge. The highway received its designation as Interstate 95 in 1960.
The State determined in 1971 that increasing traffic on the superhighway required its expansion from four to eight lanes. The average daily 1970 traffic count was 23,000 vehicles, and, on a single August Sunday, 57,000 vehicles used the road. On the Monday of the 1973 Memorial Day weekend, the two southbound lanes were backed up from the toll booths some 14 miles by vacationers returning from Maine and New Hampshire holidays. The widened highway has reduced this bottleneck, but on peak weekends, motorists can be slowed by two or three miles of stop-and-go traffic. As part of a 1970s expansion project, 271 properties along the route were taken by the State, the bridges were rebuilt, and the toll interchange at Hampton was rebuilt. The toll interchange was remodeled again after 1975, and the tolls were increased from 25 cents to 40 cents. As an experiment, the tolls on the Hampton exits were eliminated from 1979 through 1981 in an effort to get traffic onto the highway and off busy Route 101 from Exeter to Portsmouth. Tolls were increased to 50 cents in 1979; through motorists are now charged 75 cents. In March 1989, the one-billionth auto to pass through New Hampshire Turnpike toll booths was recorded at Hampton, 39 years after the first toll was paid. Traffic has increased so much in recent years that state officials predicted that it would take only nine years for the next billion cars to be counted.