Future of 11-mile Conway Bypass up in the airBy JOHN KOZIOL
Union Leader Correspondent
October 15. 2017 9:10PM
CONWAY — The time has come to complete the Conway Bypass or repay the federal government’s multi-million dollar investment in it.
During a hearing this past week, the consensus was in favor of the latter, with an eye toward preserving land already acquired for future uses.
Intended to connect Madison with North Conway, the Conway Bypass would have skirted two bottlenecks on New Hampshire Route 16, one approaching Conway Village from the south and the other coming into North Conway from the north.
Two of the project’s components — construction of the North South Road and a rebuild/upgrade of existing roadways — are complete, while the third component, the 11-mile Conway bypass itself, is in question, said William Cass, the assistant commissioner and chief engineer of the NH Department of Transportation.
On Wednesday evening, Cass told some 60 people gathered at the A. Crosby Kennett Middle School that he wanted their input on the bypass so that he could present it to state officials, including Gov. Chris Sununu.
If the idea of the bypass resonates positively, he continued, the goal would be to include it in the 10-year transportation plan that the Legislature will consider in June 2018.
In the meantime, Cass said NHDOT is also working with the U.S. Department of Transportation, which, going back more than 20 years, funded the bypass.
Federal funds covered $34 million of construction to date, said Donald Lyford, of the NHDOT’s Highway Design Bureau, while $44 million was spent to buy properties in the bypass corridor.
State Rep. Ed Butler, D-Harts Location, told Cass he has spoken with a number of local elected officials who told him that the bypass should not be killed outright, and later speakers elaborated on the theme that the acquired land could be used for a non-motorized recreation path, for example, or could simply be “mothballed” until a suitable use was found.
Cass said it was unlikely that the USDOT would allow the current bypass plan to be amended but added that discussions were ongoing with that agency on a possible repayment timetable and that the NHDOT has considered holding onto the acquired bypass land.
The challenge in Conway, said Cass, is that “your main highway is your Main Street.”
A majority of the more than a dozen speakers questioned the need for the bypass, noting that traffic gets really bad only occasionally, not regularly, and that they, as locals, had planned out alternate routes and times to beat the crush.
During the 90-minute public hearing, there was agreement that the portions of the bypass that had already been built, especially the North South Road, which runs parallel and east of Route 16 in North Conway, were successful.
John Arruda, a Madison selectman who owns a business in Conway, agreed with Cass and Lyford that traffic counts in recent years were down compared to when the bypass was first proposed.
Apart from fixing the bottleneck in Conway Village, “I don’t see us needing or affording this bypass,” he said.