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Engineering studies added to state’s 10-year draft plan

By Nick B. Reid

Hampton Union, January 5, 2014

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

Ocean Boulevard in winter
Hampton officials are seeking an Ocean Boulevard reconstruction
that would improve pedestrian and bicycle safety, drainage,
especially during storm surges, and address long-standing
sidewalk ownership and maintenance issues, especially in front of
the west-side businesses. [Deb Cram photo]

HAMPTON — A draft of the state’s transportation improvement priorities over the next 10 years includes engineering studies into reconstructing Ocean Boulevard and replacing the Route 1A bridge between Hampton and Seabrook.

Legislators and town officials from Hampton emphasized the importance of those two projects specifically at an October hearing with the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Intermodal Transportation (GACIT), which included state Executive Councilor Chris Sununu, R-Newfields, and Department of Transportation engineers.

Since then, a December draft of the 10-year plan, which is updated biennially, has made its way to the governor’s desk, including the addition of the Ocean Boulevard project.

State Sen. Nancy Stiles, R-Hampton, said she worked with Sununu to shift priorities within Rockingham County to be able to add the Ocean Boulevard reconstruction, which is designed to improve pedestrian and bicycle safety, drainage, especially during storm surges, and address long-standing sidewalk ownership and maintenance issues, especially in front of the west-side businesses.

Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan will have an opportunity to change the draft before it makes its way to the Legislature to be taken up as a House bill. Stiles said she’s willing to fight for Hampton-area projects when the bill makes a final stop in the Senate. Stiles said it’s a significant step already to have the reconstruction included in the draft, meaning legislators won’t have to move an amendment to add it later on.

Bill Watson, an administrator with the DOT’s Bureau of Planning and Community Assistance who also sits on the Hampton Beach Area Commission (HBAC), said “there’s a lot unknown” about the Ocean Boulevard reconstruction project, including what portion of the road would be targeted. Watson said the HBAC received a $300,000 federal grant in 2012 to update the Hampton Beach Master Plan, and he expects reconstruction of Ocean Boulevard to come out of the update as a top priority.

“Depending on how far the dollars the beach commission have received can be stretched, it may start that engineering study that Councilor Sununu is asking us to do,” Watson said.

In the draft plan, preliminary engineering for the Ocean Boulevard project is set for 2018.

Part of what allowed the Ocean Boulevard addition was a shift of resources away from a possible reconfiguration of the intersection of routes 1 and 88 in Hampton Falls, which was determined to be a high priority by the Rockingham Planning Commission. Previously scheduled for a $4.7 million construction in 2022, the project is now set to receive a $250,000 engineering study in 2018.

Watson said Sununu felt it was “premature” to schedule full construction and decided to scale that back while focusing on the engineering side of the project and coming up with ideas for what could and should be done.

That also freed up resources to ensure the Route 1A bridge between Hampton and Seabrook will continue to be studied. The bridge, which is on the state’s red list, was scheduled for a $6.8 million rehabilitation, but Watson said Sununu recommended looking at not just rehabilitation but a full replacement.

The replacement, which Watson said has been estimated in the range of $80 million to $100 million, would be part of an effort to improve traffic flow in an area that’s crucial to the nearby nuclear power plant’s evacuation plan, as well as improve pedestrian and bicycle safety after a fatal car-versus-bicycles accident occurred on the bridge in September.

HBAC Chairman John Nyhan said he was “extremely pleased” with the community’s efforts to ensure Hampton projects make the list.

He said he was “very grateful” that Sununu went as far as to meet privately with HBAC members to hear their concerns.

Nyhan said he feels more confident in securing federal grants with the importance of the project corroborated in the 10-year plan.

“This now gives us a wider door to go through in search of funding to help support the reconstruction of Ocean Boulevard,” he said.

He said the fact the HBAC is likely to be able to use money from a grant it has already secured to study reconstruction is “a real jump-start for us.”

Nyhan said the strong backing of legislators willing to stand up for Hampton-area projects will be important as the 10-year plan makes its way through the Legislature this session.

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