CONWAY — Selectmen on Tuesday heard proposals from New Hampshire Department of Transportation for a roundabout or a stoplight at the Route 302 and East Conway Road intersection where there’s now only a stop sign.
A couple from New Bedford — David and Cathy Oliveira, both 57 — were killed on their motorcycle on Labor Day 2018 when a pickup hit them as they were exiting the intersection.
A public hearing on safety improvements at the intersection was held at Tuesday’s selectmen’s meeting.
NH DOT Safety Engineer Michael Dugas and Hoyle, Tanner & Associates Inc. engineer Stephen Haas gave a presentation detailing the existing conditions and the pros and cons of a traffic light or roundabout. Dugas said Hoyle, Tanner is consulting with DOT on the project.
“The most important part of today’s meeting is to solicit feedback from community from you, from your residents, with the aim of reaching consensus on a preferred alternative,” said Dugas, meaning DOT would like to know if Conway wants a light or roundabout.
Dugas said while the option of doing nothing is still on the table it is not a likely scenario.
Construction on either the light or the roundabout could start in 2023, said Dugas. The roundabout might take more time to build, but there have been delays getting in getting the steel for the traffic lights. Either alternative could be completed in one construction season.
According to Haas, from 2007-18, 30 crashes have occurred at the intersection, and there were fatal crashes in 2018 and 2019.
The intersection is located next to the Conway police station. Both roads at the intersection are owned by the state.
Hass said the location suffers from sight distance because of steep banking, meaning the right side of 302 as you travel toward North Conway is higher than the left side of the road.
The speed limit is currently 40 mph at the intersection, but just east of it, it’s 50 mph. Haas said they anticipate people are speeding at the intersection.
Route 302 carries about 13,500 vehicles per day and East Conway Road about half that.
The intersection from East Conway Road is given an “F” letter grade for its estimated ability to handle traffic in the afternoon during summer month and a “D” in the morning, said Haas.
The “D” rating means the wait time to get onto 302 is 25-35 seconds of delay and an “F” is a minute or more. Up to about 30 cars can be queuing there in the afternoon.
“So, obviously this congestion leads motorists to make somewhat rash decisions and pull out into smaller gaps than they safely get into,” said Haas.
With the light option, there would be a right turn lane from 302 onto East Conway Road. As for the benefits, Haas said in future projections, the level of service would be a “B” for peak conditions in the mornings and afternoons. That would mean a 10-20 second delay on average per car.
“Pretty good improvement,” said Haas, adding the signal should reduce side impact crashes but red light running could still cause crashes, and rear-end collisions could be caused by the light if people don’t see the person ahead of them stopping.
The letter grades differ between a stop sign and a light. An “F” at a stop sign is a delay of 50 seconds or more. At a signal, an “F” is a wait time of 80 seconds or more.
Dugas said the proposed light could react to traffic conditions. For example, it could remain green on Route 302 late at night unless tripped by traffic approaching from East Conway Road.
Turning to a roundabout, the engineer said it would have a 130-foot diameter, and cars would go around it at 15-20 mph.
Town Engineer Paul DegliAngeli said the two roundabouts on North-South Road (one near Walmart and another just north at PetSmart) are both 120 feet in diameter.
As for traffic flow, the roundabout got projected B/C ratings for the year 2022.
The primary benefit of the roundabout, said Haas, is speed control because drivers would have to slow down. The severity of accidents also would be reduced.
Dugas said the cost of the traffic signal is estimated to be $1.7 million — much of that would involve reducing the banking on Route 302. The cost of the roundabout is estimated to be just over $1.8 million.
“All of these costs would be covered by federal safety funds with no local match,” said Dugas, noting the town would have to move town-owned utilities if there are any. He also said there would be some town costs if the town chooses to have amenities for pedestrians. Right now, there doesn’t seem to be a need for sidewalks, both town and state officials said.
DOT would make the decision on building a signal or a light after gathering as much input as it can. Dugas suggested that members of the public could send their comments to the town and the town could bundle those comments and forward them to DOT.
Selectman Mary Carey Seavey said she likes the idea of a roundabout.
Selectman John Colbath said residents have told him they prefer the roundabout but there was a concern that large trucks would be able to get around it or if a truck might take down a signal.
Resident Mary Lou Waite over Zoom said that she didn’t think a roundabout would keep traffic moving.
Dugas said DOT has experience building roundabouts on highways. He said the new Ossipee roundabout works better than older ones.
Selectman Steve Porter said people he has talked to like the roundabout idea because the traffic slows down but keeps moving if designed well.
Dugas said the DOT doesn’t state its preference until after the town has had a chance to express its input. But he did say roundabouts are “far superior” safety-wise because of low speed and “glancing angles.”
Colbath said the priority should be safety.
Conway Police Chief Chris Mattei says he thinks there are a lot of broadside accidents when people turn left out of East Conway. He also asked them to look at the traffic backups.
Haas said the biggest concern about queuing was traffic going eastbound but he would look at it.
In July, The Conway Daily Sun asked readers in a Tele-Talk which they preferred, a roundabout or traffic light. A traffic light received the most positive responses, 187-109.
Chairman David Weathers said the intersection would be on the agenda again soon and the town would share any input it receives.