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Deerfield Fair weekend fouled by traffic tieups

Union Leader Correspondent

October 05. 2018 10:02AM

Bumper-to-bumper traffic as far as the eye could see on the way to the Deerfield Fair last Saturday. (Melissa Ann Blanchette/Facebook)

DEERFIELD — When Deerfield Fair organizers hold their first officers meeting after last weekend’s fair, concerns over exceptionally heavy traffic are expected to be a hot topic of discussion.

While traffic is a yearly concern for the 142-year-old harvest fair, many patrons have reported that last weekend stood out as the worst they had experienced.

Dustin Soucie of Lawrence, Mass., said he sat in bumper-to-bumper traffic from about 3:30 to 6 p.m. on Saturday as he traveled the last seven miles to the fairgrounds.

“I’ve experienced traffic before, but that was unbelievable,” Soucie said. “I’ve had better luck leaving Patriots games or from the Xfinity Center in Mansfield.”

Matthew Rose of Manchester reported that his parents faced similar circumstances on Saturday when they took his daughter to the fair.

“Let’s put it this way,” said Rose of the traffic his parents encountered. “My parents live in Sandown about 15 miles away from the fair, normally a 30-minute drive, give or take. They left the fair a little before 9 p.m. and got home after midnight. That has never happened before.”

Those experiences were echoed by Leslie Lefavor of Londonderry, who said it was the worst traffic she’s encountered in the 25 years she’s attended the fair.

“I spent a total of five-and-a-half hours in traffic — three of that just to get out of the parking area. Complete chaos, no direction,” said Lefavor.

Following traffic concerns during the 2017 fair, organizers announced plans to draft a new traffic plan. The plans included contracting New England Traffic Control Services, a company that specializes in directing traffic at utility and construction sites, to assist police with the high volume of weekend fair traffic.

Jeff Graham, who co-owns New England Traffic Control Services, said the fair approached his company last winter in hopes of hiring upward of 30 flaggers to help direct traffic.

Graham said he told the committee that number wasn’t realistic.

“I think they were looking at us to try and do the whole thing, meaning supply all the flaggers. I told them that I couldn’t and that I didn’t believe any traffic company could,” Graham said. “Nobody’s going to have 20 or 30 people sitting around and magically be available for a four-day weekend. The economy is way too strong and everyone is working.”

Graham said he was able to provide approximately a half-dozen flaggers.

Fair Vice President Richard Pitman said those flaggers were part of the largest force the fair has ever hired to help direct traffic.

Pitman said a lot of the traffic concerns are the result of high attendance — approximately 150,000 people over the fair’s four days. He speculated that great weather and a good economy combined to drive up attendance last weekend.

Pitman said the fair was in “slow mode” during the recession. “All of a sudden it turned around last year, but we had rain on one of the weekend days,” he said. “But when we don’t have rain, like we didn’t this weekend, it creates traffic problems, as it has since I first got involved back in the 1980s.”

Graham, who sat in two hours of fair traffic himself, agrees that good weather and high attendance were probably at the root of the problem. However, he suggested that the fair committee would benefit from creating some kind of alternate traffic pattern.

“I think what really needs to happen is they need to look at some kind of detour like they do at Loudon,” said Graham, referring to NASCAR race weekend at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway. “Something where it’s one-way coming in and one-way coming out. It’s pretty obvious that you can’t just try to do the normal routine with traffic flowing back and forth on 43 and 107 without having the catastrophic disaster that occurred this weekend.”

Pitman said he understands Graham’s suggestion, but doesn’t think such a plan is feasible in Deerfield.

“We can’t shut down the southbound lane and let everybody rip like they do on 106 during race weekend when they let them run four lanes wide,” Pitman said. “Unfortunately we’re in the country and we do the best we can with 107 and Route 43.”

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