Publisher's Note: One big local boondoggle
By Jeff Rapsis
The recent presidential election campaign was studded with a lot of talk about federal boondoggles, including the infamous “Bridge to Nowhere.” But you don’t have to go to Alaska to find boondoggles. Closer to home, at the state and local level, we have our own share.
What’s the worst? My nomination goes for the reconstruction of Exit 5 of Interstate 293 in Manchester, a $25 million-plus project that also included the widening and improvement of Granite Street. The project, which took three years to complete, was designed to create a fitting gateway to Manchester, a grand access road leading to the city’s revitalized downtown. It even included trees on the median strip!
Now that it’s complete, the results are in: it’s a total disaster. All day long, traffic sits parked at the succession of unsynchronized lights on Granite Street. As the project has neared completion, many people I know have taken to totally avoiding this vehicular snake pit, despite the pretty trees. And we had to pay $25 million for this?
Spending this kind of money to rebuild an intersection and road that is now so unmanageable sounds like a boondoogle to me. To put $25 million into creating a grand gateway, and to have the result be so dysfunctional that hordes of people go out of their way to avoid it entirely, strikes me as not only wasteful, but just plain stupid.
The least the city and state can do is synchronize the string of lights on Granite Street to allow through traffic at least a chance of getting through the gauntlet of intersections and into and out of town without getting stuck. This is done all over the country, to increase efficiency and save gas. Why not here?
Instead, in Manchester, each intersection is signaled to give “equal time” to all roads leading into it. In other words, through traffic on Granite Street must wait while lights on the north-south streets such as Commercial and Canal run through their entire cycle.
And this charade continues at all hours. Last Sunday night at 11 p.m., I took a chance on Granite Street, thinking it couldn’t be that bad at that quiet hour. There was absolutely no traffic in any direction, and yet I was stuck at three red lights for the full cycle before even reaching I-293, when I had to wait for another light!
What needs to be done to make this whole project work better is to synchronize the lights on Granite Street so priority is given to traffic using it as an entrance or exit to the city. Then it would be useful to a lot of drivers and would better fulfill the whole plan.
Who’s to blame? Engineers who know how to build a good road but apparently have no clue how to signal it. Politicians who approve a big project like this but don’t have the brains to fund little details (in this case, synchronizing those lights) that make the difference between success and failure.
I’m willing to bet all those trees won’t last long because there’s probably nothing in any budget to maintain them properly. And even if there is, it’ll doubtless be the first to go during the next budget freeze, making this whole project an ugly-looking boondoggle to boot. Fitting.