By John Toole
---- — A giant yellow caution flag goes up Sunday on New Hampshire’s highways, as NASCAR fans put an estimated 37,700 vehicles on the roadways.
State officials this week announced a 10-point plan to manage traffic from New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon down through the Interstate 93 corridor leading to Massachusetts.
New Hampshire Department of Transportation spokesman Bill Boynton said the plan is now in its 20th year.
“This has been tweaked over the years, but it is a successful traffic management control system,” Boynton said.
Lt. Chris Wagner, commander of New Hampshire State Police Troop B, which patrols I-93, agrees with that assessment.
“It absolutely works. It’s actually amazing,” Wagner said. “It is well thought out, well planned and well implemented.”
More than 100,000 fans are expected to attend the NASCAR Sprint Cup Race.
A key to the plan is the transformation of a five-mile stretch of I-93 between Concord and Bow.
Boynton said DOT crews convert one northbound lane to a southbound lane to improve traffic flow leaving from the race. That is scheduled from about 4 to 11 p.m.
Boynton credits a former DOT assistant commissioner, Gil Rogers, who now works for the speedway as director of traffic and parking, for that I-93 shift.
“That did amazing work relieving that congestion at the bottleneck there,” Boynton said.
He recalled one of the early surprises for traffic planners was the larger than expected number of recreational vehicles fans bring to the track as they camp out for the week leading to the race.
Now everyone knows that RVs go with race week.
“I know it’s race week when the Wal-Mart parking lot is filled on Loudon Road in Concord,” Boynton said.
There are no big changes in the plan this year, even with the arrival of open-road tolling in Hooksett.
“That should only help this year,” Boynton said.
Fans also have become accustomed to the traffic over the years and that’s helped.
“People have learned to come early and stay late,” Boynton said.
His advice to vacation travelers from Southern New Hampshire and Massachusetts is to be aware the race is happening Sunday and plan for it.
Later Sunday afternoon there will be a lot of vehicles heading south on I-93, he said.
“There will be higher volumes of traffic,” he said. “But I would be surprised if they run into complete congestion.”
Conditions won’t make this a big day for speeding.
Wagner’s advice: “Patience, absolute patience.”
People can get aggravated when it’s hot, trying to combat traffic, he said.
“Expect delays,” he said. “Expect the unexpected — accidents, breakdowns.”
Having participated in the traffic management through the years Wagner said driver inattention will cause those accidents.
“You’re in close quarters, tight quarters, in stop-and-go traffic,” he said. “You can come to a dead stop suddenly. Your focus needs to be on driving.”
Be prepared, too, Wagner advises.
“Make sure you have enough fuel in your car and that you have the basic necessities,” he said.
An observation from Boynton: “Auto racing is unique in that it is the only sporting event in which the spectators are doing the same activity in order to arrive at the event.”
To view the traffic management plan, visit the Department of Transportation’s website at nh.gov/dot.