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Transit center envisioned as hub for buses and shuttles


 Seacoast Sunday, March 17, 2013

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

HAMPTON — State planners are considering the future of parking at Hampton Beach and weighing the feasibility of an overhaul that would feature remote parking and scheduled shuttle service between the town and beach.

Hampton residents like the idea of having a transit center at a modernized interchange between routes 1 and 101, which has had its current design likened to “a ball of spaghetti,” and floated their thoughts to experts at a forum on Thursday.

They painted a picture of a redesign that frees up enough space for parking and a shuttle service that connects a transit center to the downtown and beach, which would lessen traffic congestion. The transit center could also possibly connect Hampton to a bus route developing between Manchester and Portsmouth.

Engineers walked out of the town office Thursday night with a stack of data detailing the ideas and concerns that residents offered.

State Rep. Fred Rice, R-Hampton, said now is the time to pursue this idea. He said a successful remote parking strategy hinges on two factors: an ample amount of space and convenient and frequent transportation to the beach.

“Like the Disneyland shuttles: Nobody parks in front of Mickey Mouse, they park a mile away and they get carried by a shuttle. Same concept,” Rice said.

The interchange is about three miles from the beach and a half-mile to downtown.

The forum was driven by Rockingham Planning Commission’s senior transportation planner, Scott Bogle, who explained the scope of the study. Joining him was Gene McCarthy, a highway engineer, who asked about issues people have with the interchange, whether they’d like to see a transit center there with parking, and how much people might pay to park and take a shuttle to the beach.

The forum was a preliminary stage of a study that comes five years after the Rockingham Planning Commission completed a Route 1 Corridor Study that recommended $77 million worth of improvements along the corridor from Seabrook to Portsmouth. One major recommendation of that study was to reconfigure the interchange of routes 1 and 101 to improve safety and function, and potentially free up land, Bogle said.

McCarthy said the intersection is outdated with a design that features several unusual factors that make it undesirable and unsafe. The design includes the ability to travel at an inappropriate high speed, abrupt merges with poor visibility and left-hand exits. He said those factors are difficult for out-of-towners to deal with, and admitted even he, a highway engineer, once missed his exit and had to circle back around the entire interchange.

“You’ve compounded all the things that people are unaccustomed to seeing, all in a very confined location,” he said.

The location is perfect to be redesigned to modern standards, said former selectman and contractor Vic Lessard.

“This has been talked about and talked about and I think we need it,” he said. “I think it’s a great spot and I don’t know where you’re going to get a better spot.”

Rice stressed the value of the transit center as a place to change modes of transportation and said the value of the remote parking concept has been proven during the annual Seafood Festival.

“People will use (remote parking) if they know it’s there and you advertise it properly, so this could fill that role,” Rice said.

McCarthy said he got a strong message that residents support the concept. “I think I’m hearing in spades that if you can provide parking for the beach in this location and some kind of service to get people to the beach, there’s a lot of demand for it,” he said.

The study is being funded by a grant from the Federal Transit Administration that the Rockingham Planning Commission got through the state Department of Transportation, according to Bogle. It entails an environmental site assessment, development of conceptual designs and corresponding cost estimates and evaluation of transit services that would use the center. It also involves consideration of bus services, including COAST expanding service on Route 1 from Portsmouth to Seabrook and adding Hampton to an east-west bus service expected to be running 20 hours a day from Portsmouth to Epping to Manchester this summer.

When planners asked what people might pay to park and ride a bus to the beach, Rice said that discussion may be premature since the project is likely to evolve as the study develops. McCarthy said for the next step he and his associates would come up with three alternatives for the interchange — one minimal, one elaborate and one in between. Bogle said they’d return in May to discuss them further. 

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