By John Toole
---- — WINDHAM — It’s lights out at the intersection of Routes 111 and 111A.
The New Hampshire Department of Transportation rejected a recommendation from selectmen and will remove the traffic light.
“While the department recognizes and understands the town’s recommendation to retain the signal, we believe the prudent decision is to remove the traffic signal as planned,” Commissioner Christopher Clement said in a letter to selectmen this week.
The light will stay until at least the summer of 2015, when the relocation of Route 111A is complete and most of Interstate 93 Exit 3 improvements are finished, Clement said. “This decision protects the significant investment made to improve capacity and reduce congestion along the N.H. Route 111 corridor in this area.”
DOT is prepared to revisit the need for a signal at the intersection in the future, if safety, congestion or other needs are not being met following the planned road improvements, the commissioner said.
The state for many years had planned to remove the light, but businesses that have since developed around the intersection pressed selectmen to keep it.
The board was split over what to do, however, because other businesses and property owners had made decisions based on DOT’s plans.
Selectmen also were concerned about having too many traffic lights on Route 111 and how congestion might affect quality of life in town.
At a meeting last month, selectmen, on a 3-2 vote, recommended the state keep the light.
Selectmen Kathleen DiFruscia, Roger Hohenberger and Ross McLeod supported the recommendation. Selectmen Al Letizio Jr. and Phil LoChiatto opposed it.
LoChiatto, the board’s chairman, said he expects selectmen will discuss the decision when they meet Monday.
He said he is unsure what action the full board might take, but noted town officials only can advise DOT about the light, they can’t compel the agency to keep it.
He acknowledged one possibility is the board could ask its legislative delegation to appeal to DOT to reconsider.
But LoChiatto supports the NHDOT decision.
“I actually think this is a good thing,” he said. “Leaving the light there created more problems.”
A lot of property owners made plans the last 10 years based on the state transportation plans, he said.
“I think it’s a good thing they stuck to the plan,” LoChiatto said.
At the meeting in July, DOT project manager Peter Stamnas stressed the agency’s plans had emerged years ago from meetings with town officials.
Stamnas, noting the shifting opinions in town, said, “We can’t satisfy everybody.”
The decision disappointed ConvenientMD CEO Max Puyanic, one of the leaders in the fight to keep the light.
Puyanic said about 40 people who own or work at businesses around the intersection asked the state to keep the light.
The Planning Board and Economic Development Committee unanimously supported the light, as did a majority of selectmen, he said.
“They chose to ignore that,” Puyanic said. “We’re obviously very disappointed. This is going to be harmful to us and other businesses served by that light.”
Puyanic said he doesn’t expect businesses to push the issue with selectmen Monday, although he will attend the meeting.
“We probably will go directly to the House and Senate members, rather than the board of selectmen,” he said. “We will regroup with the other businesses in the area and digest this disappointing result that will be harmful to all of us.”