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Route 101 widening all about being safe

BEDFORD - Safety was the top concern of those who turned out for a state Department of Transportation-sponsored meeting on the $6.5 million widening of Route 101 from Wallace Road to the intersection with Route 114.

State transportation officials used the meeting to give some 50 Bedford residents an update on plans to improve and widen the road that divides the northern and southern sections of the town and serves as the only major thoroughfare to western parts of the state.

Construction is expected to begin in 2016 with a completion date of December 2017, according to Alexander Vogt, project manager with the DOT's highway design bureau. Vogt said 90 percent of the funding for the project will come from the federal government with the remaining 10 percent to be picked up by the state.

Preliminary plans call for adding an extra travel lane in both directions, which would make the road a four lane highway between Route 114 and Wallace Road with a landscaped, raised median dividing the east- and west-bound lanes. The plan also calls for providing turning lanes at several strategic locations, sidewalks, crosswalks and traffic lights at key intersections.

The purpose of the raised and landscaped median, said Vogt, is to provide a traffic calming device that would encourage drivers to slow down on that two-mile stretch of road and restrict left turns to intersections with traffic signals. "Just that visual impact can make a difference," said Vogt. "There's lots of little things that can be done and we'll be looking at all that."

But for one resident, there's little the state can do to make that road any safer. "I don't think you can make 101 safe for anyone," said Elaine Tefft. "It's a very dangerous highway, and I personally think that (a sidewalk) is what is known as an attractive nuisance and you're endangering lives."

According to the DOT, as many as 34,000 vehicles per day travel that stretch of Route 101, with significant daily backups caused by the traffic lights at Meetinghouse Road and Nashua Road, which runs perpendicular to Route 101 and is the main entrance route to the high school.

Over the last five years, there have been 322 motor vehicle accidents on the stretch of highway between Wallace Road and Route 114, most of them rear-end collisions, said Michael Duggas, chief of preliminary design for the DOT. The speed limit on the road is 40 mph, but drops to 30 mph near the Constitution Drive intersection, which is near the town's public safety complex.

"It's a very large volume of traffic we're trying to serve with this project," said Duggas, who added that because Route 101, which was built in 1952, runs from Bedford all the way to Keene, it's a road that's used by more than just Bedford residents.

The last time the state studied traffic patterns on the road was in 2002. After 2002, the widening project was taken off the state's 10-year plan, but was placed back on after a significant lobbying effort by local officials.

Resident Linda Gould urged DOT officials to consider the needs of people who walk and ride bicycles along the road. "It should be built so people walking from Wallace Road eastward can walk safely," she said. "It's very important to accommodate bicyclists and pedestrians."

Other residents called on the DOT to consider either an overpass at Bell Hill Road and Nashua Road or perhaps an underpass similar to one under Route 101 in Amherst.

"We can evaluate that," said Vogt. "But I would mention that bridges are very expensive. I'm just saying that funding is tight."

Preliminary designs for the road are expected to be unveiled this summer, followed by two more public information meetings - one in the fall and one in winter of 2014.

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