Circumferential Highway (Nashua)
The Circumferential Highway is the commonly accepted name for a bypass route around the city of Nashua in southern New Hampshire, the majority of which has not yet been built. The purpose of the highway is to provide an alternate route for commuters to access the F.E. Everett Turnpike and U.S. Route 3 in Nashua. Most of the highway will be built in Hudson, with small sections also built through the towns of Litchfield and Merrimack as well as the city of Nashua.
Currently, the only segment to be built is a short 2-mile (3.2 km) interchange road between US 3, the Daniel Webster Highway, and N.H. Route 3A. This section utilizes the Sagamore Bridge, one of the two current bridges over the Merrimack River connecting Hudson to Nashua. The completed section begins at US 3, terminates at NH Route 3A to the east, and has a single interchange between its termini with the D.W. Highway before it crosses the river.
Justification for the highway
The Circumferential Highway has been planned since the 1950s, as the need for such a road has been apparent for a long time. To date, however, only a short 2-mile (3.2 km) segment has been built. One of the major provisions of the plan for the highway is to provide a new crossing over the Merrimack River. Currently there are four bridges over the Merrimack River between Lowell, Massachusetts and Manchester, New Hampshire. Drivers wishing to access U.S. Route 3 from the east side of the river have the following options (listed here from south to north):
- The Tyngsboro Bridge, which provides access to US 3 via Massachusetts Route 113.
- The Sagamore Bridge, connecting the Everett Turnpike (US 3) to New Hampshire Route 3A in Hudson, with an intermediate exit at the Daniel Webster Highway in the South Nashua retail district.
- The Taylor Falls/Veterans Memorial Bridges (a.k.a. The Hudson Bridge), which puts traffic through the city streets of Nashua, such as Hollis Street and Canal Street, streets which cross several train tracks, and which lack the capacity to handle the demand.
- The Raymond Wieczorek Drive/Manchester Airport Access Road bridge, built in 2011, which provides a connection between NH Route 3A in the southern tip of Manchester, a few miles south of Interstate 293, and the Everett Turnpike in the southern corner of Bedford, with an interchange connecting the road with US 3.
The Circumferential Highway would provide an additional river crossing between Nashua and Manchester, where one does not exist. The Sagamore Bridge crossing south of downtown Nashua was expanded and forms the only portion of the Circumferential Highway that has been constructed.
- Currently, the Circumferential Highway is in Nashua and Hudson, as the Merrimack River forms the border between the two towns
- West end: US 3
- Daniel Webster Highway
- East end (current) NH 3A
Opposition to the highway
The project has not been without controversy. Political and environmental roadblocks have caused delays for years. The highway would be built mostly through the town of Hudson, as well as small portions of Litchfield and Merrimack. This would require the seizure and destruction of many homes, and the filling in of several wetlands. A 1993 report by the EPA expressed an "intent to veto" the project as it was then planned, all but killing the full highway. Of particular concern is the impact on the Pennichuck Brook watershed, a series of ponds and creeks along the Nashua/Merrimack border. A second study has been ongoing since 1995, but no action has been made on it.
Additionally, despite the population boom, there may no longer be the need for the entirety of the road as planned. The part of the highway that has been built, including the Sagamore Bridge rebuild, has bypassed the worst traffic problem, and allows easy access to U.S. 3 as well as the D.W. Highway shopping district. Widening of Route 3A in Hudson has alleviated a lot of the traffic problem as well. Travellers also have alternate routes, especially for longer distance north–south travel. Drivers heading north of Manchester or south of Lowell can take I-93 to the east, a relatively uncongested rural highway. Also, US 3 in Nashua has been extensively rebuilt and widened, improving access and capacity.
Ten different alternatives have been proposed to the road. A brief description of some of them:
- A "No Build" option, which leaves the entire situation at the current status quo.
- Alternatives to the northern crossing, planned in the vicinity of the Pennichuck Watershed, by choosing a less damaging crossing site. This could possibly include crossings that do not include connections to the Everett Turnpike.
- Rather than a four lane freeway, the road could be built as a "super-two" highway, with at-grade crossings, a lower speed limit, and limited driveway access.
- A southern crossing that may also include the removal of the Taylor Falls/Veterans Memorial bridges connecting Hudson and Nashua. This option may alleviate much of the traffic problems, but would also generate considerable social and economic stress.
Revival of highway proposal
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On September 5, 2013, the town of Hudson discussed revising the project due to increasing traffic on Lowell Road and imminent development of new industrial parks in addition to future development in the northern part of the town.
Although recent road improvements have helped alleviate some of the traffic problems, other problems that the Circumferential Highway project is supposed to remedy still have not been addressed:
- There is still no river crossing between the Taylor Falls/Veterans Memorial Bridges and the Manchester Airport Access Road bridge in Manchester. Residents of Litchfield or Merrimack must travel 5 to 6 miles (8.0 to 9.7 km) in either direction to cross the river. This has been cited as the major cause for keeping the project going despite years of historical setbacks.
- Use of the Taylor Falls/Veterans Memorial Bridges still causes problems. East Hollis Street can still be a huge traffic problem, especially with the train crossings so close to the bridge. The US 3 Exit 5 rebuild and expansion has helped access at the highway, but getting to and from the highway can still create problems.
- Though eminent domain has been cited as a possible concern, the towns of Hudson and Litchfield have specifically avoided zoning for additional construction near the proposed path of the highway. Though no official right-of-way has been established, this has created a virtual right-of-way for most of the proposed course.
Several other road improvement projects have been considered to complement the Circumferential Highway:
- The now completed Broad Street Parkway along a realigned NH 130 was closely tied to this project. It has been completed as a two-lane road, and allows more direct access between the northwest Nashua commercial district along Broad and Amherst streets and central Nashua, allowing drivers to bypass several congested intersections.
- Amherst Street (NH 101A) widening is included in all proposals for the Circumferential Highway.
- The Manchester Airport Access Road, completed in 2011, is a spur off the Everett Turnpike and provides a crossing of the Merrimack River a few miles south of I-293 in Manchester. It includes interchanges with US 3 and NH Route 3A.
- Nashua Regional Planning Commission (2003-09-17). "Circumferential Highway "White Paper"" (PDF). Retrieved 2006-10-22.
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (1999-04-12). "EPA: Federal Register: Intent to Prepare a Supplement to the Final Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for the New Hampshire Department of Transportation (NHDOT) Circumferential Highway Project--Nashua, Hudson, Litchfield, and Merrimack, New Hampshire". Retrieved 2006-10-24.
- Tollroads News (2007-08-18). "Manchester NH Airport Access Rd under way". Retrieved 2007-08-29.
- Bedford Journal (2011-08-12). "Airport access road project nearing completion". Retrieved 2011-10-05.
- Map: Coordinates: