SEABROOK — The full court press employed by officials in hopes of getting the state Department of Transportation to move up the schedule to widen an integral portion of Route 1 appears to be working, but not as well as they hoped.
When originally announced in 2012, NHDOT cited a 2015 construction date for roadwork that would widen about 2,000 feet of Route 1 southbound, from about 400 feet south of the Route 1/107 intersection at BP Gas Station to Dunkin’ Donuts.
That stretch of road is a bottleneck that snarls traffic daily and has caused frequent accidents and road rage incidents. The road project that will add one lane to the west side of the road was part of the agreement the state made with the town to end a lawsuit and get Planning Board approval of the new shopping center currently under construction at the Route 1/107 intersection with Provident Way.
The town insisted the road be widened before approving the mall to lessen the anticipated gridlock when hundreds of thousands of feet of new retail space opens this summer at the shopping center. Proposed by Ohio developer DDR and expected to draw an additional 1,700 to 2,100 cars per hour to Seabrook roads, the outlet was allowed nearly 500,000 square feet of new business. If completed at that size, it will be the largest shopping in the greater Newburyport area, projected to draw thousands of shoppers daily from Massachusetts.
At November’s meeting on the project with DOT representatives in Seabrook, however, local officials were shocked to learn the agency’s intent was to push the construction date to 2017. Selectmen and the Planning Board vigorously objected to the postponement, as did Seabrook’s state Sen. Nancy Stiles and Executive Councillor Chris Sununu and area business owners.
The result of the pressure came in a Dec. 30 letter to Planning Board chairman Donald Hawkins stating DOT will try to move the project up one year to 2016, if all goes smoothly. In her letter to Hawkins, DOT project manager and engineer Victoria Chase explained the delay was due to the complex nature of obtaining the needed right-of-way on the road to obtain the room to allow the additional lane. But the advance depends on reaching swift and “amicable settlements with affected (property) owners” of land needed to add the extra lane, Chase cautioned.