PELHAM — Residents voiced strong support last night for a proposed $3.9 million traffic configuration in the congested town center, saying it will make travel much safer in the accident-prone area.
Most of the dozen residents and all local officials who spoke at the public hearing said they endorsed at least one of the two roundabout options — each guaranteed $3.15 million in federal money. The town would be responsible for about $87,500 of the cost with the state footing the rest of the bill.
"The need is obvious to anyone who lives in town or has the occasion to travel through town," Selectman Hal Lynde said.
State transportation officials said the current configuration is a maze of streets crowded by commuter traffic and the scene of 49 crashes at two intersections between 2002 and 2006. Roundabouts are circular and one way, such as traffic circles, only much smaller, and the traffic moves at a much lower speed.
Resident Jean-Guy Bergeron said the current configuration has to go.
"It is unsafe and has been unsafe," Bergeron said. He was one of about 35 people in the audience.
The meeting was attended by the state's public hearing commissioners, who are empowered by the governor and Executive Council with approving the project for the final design phase, construction bidding and right-of-way acquisitions.
Commissioner Real Pinard of Manchester said before the hearing that the panel was there to listen to the public's wishes.
"What the town wants, more or less," he said.
State Department of Transportation project manager Chris Waszczuk expects a decision from the commissioners within two or three months.
If the project gets a thumbs up and all goes well, the roundabout construction would start in spring 2011 and end by fall 2012, he said. Pelham voters would still need to approve money to fund the town's portion.
One roundabout would be at the entrance to Village Green. The other would replace the intersection of Nashua and Marsh roads near the fire station.
The second roundabout has two options.
Option A would require the fire station to be relocated. Option B would place the roundabout at the front of the station, preventing the Fire Department from using the overhead doors there. The fire engines would need to exit and enter at the back of the station.
Selectmen's Chairman Bob Haverty said the board supports Option B, but wants to reserve the right to go with Option A if money becomes available for the town to build a new fire station on the Village Green.
Even two residents who spoke in opposition last night rejected only one of the options.
Resident Larry Major said it was "totally absurd" to put the roundabout in the front. Sealing off the station's front would compromise use of the firehouse, he said.
The state has only seven roundabouts, with the latest built in Rye at Foyes Corner.