SALEM — New Hampshire transportation officials are using Interstate 93 message boards to encourage riders to take the bus.
Messages are flashing to northbound travelers, perhaps weary from their travels to Boston, during the evening rush hour.
“Commuter bus service to Boston reduces congestion,” one message says.
Another reminds commuters of bus stops in Salem, Windham and Londonderry.
The messages have just started and can be seen Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 3 to 6 p.m. on boards near the state line in Salem and at the weigh station in Windham.
A task force that looks at transit issues along the I-93 corridor encouraged posting the messages, due to the $800 million highway widening, traffic congestion and a goal of getting people to support transit options.
State Department of Transportation officials agreed it was a good idea, said Mark Sanborn, the department’s federal liaison.
“This was a result of those conversations,” Sanborn said.
Construction had something to do with the locations for the messages.
Denise Markow, program manager with the state’s transportation management center, which operates the boards, said traffic gets congested northbound near Exit 1 as the number of lanes goes from three to two.
It’s most noticeable between 4 and 6 p.m.
“Right now, there’s a traffic bottleneck that is particularly ugly on Friday,” Markow said.
So, the consensus was those locations were best to convey the idea that people could be on a bus, doing work, rather than driving in traffic.
“We said, ‘Let’s do those two boards,’” Markow said.
David Preece, executive director of the Southern New Hampshire Planning Commission and a member of the task force, said it’s all about letting people know there are transit choices.
“We’re using the electronic signs to remind people you don’t have to be in your car and stressed out,” Preece said. “There are options besides driving by themselves in a vehicle down I-93.”
People are getting that message.
Preece said 170,000 passengers a month are using the Boston Express service that operates along I-93 and the Everett Turnpike through Nashua.
Boston Express saw ridership increases on I-93 between 2011 and 2012 ranging from 9.1 percent in Londonderry to 17.4 percent in Salem, Preece said.
“The demand for these options are there,” he said. “I see a definite increase.”
Preece doesn’t think that interest will abate soon.
One reason is an aging Baby Boomer population. The other is a younger generation saddled with huge college debt trying to afford transportation.
Both are seeing mass transit as a way to access city life, he said.
The message posting comes amid several regional mass transit developments.
The governor and Executive Council yesterday approved about $650,000 in funding for a study of extending passenger rail service from Massachusetts into Plaistow.
A nearly $100,000 contract that would let the Cooperative Alliance for Regional Transportation expand service to the elderly and disabled in the Derry-Salem area also received approval from the governor and council.
Meanwhile, Salem-based Flight Line Inc. is launching Manchester-to-Portsmouth transit service and the Manchester Transit Authority is starting Concord-to-Manchester service, both on July 1, Preece said.
Being explored is Salem-to-Concord transit service, via Manchester, though how and when that service would be provided has yet to be determined, he said.