Safety first: be an advocate in Derry NH

**UPDATE, August 4: the NH Department of Transportation has POSTPONED the August 4 meeting announced below. The reason…wait for it…hot weather. One might call that a safety concern. Let’s hope the same concern animates future moves in the Exit 4-A project.**

The Granite State Walker is about celebrating New Hampshire trails – not the mountain trails that are well-documented elsewhere, but the southern New Hampshire trails that deserve to be just as cherished. Public-policy advocacy is not the usual beat for this blog. Something is coming up that prompts me to make an exception, and it involves the Derry Rail Trail.

Derry’s trail is part of what will someday be the Granite State Rail Trail, extending from Salem to Manchester and beyond. Already, the Derry trail connects with the Windham Rail Trail to the south, and it will eventually connect with the Londonderry Rail Trail to the north. One important segment yet to be built is the trail’s crossing of the proposed exit 4-A on I-93.

In brief, the state Department of Transportation intends to route the rail trail along a messy path, aptly nicknamed (not by the DOT) the “spaghetti route.” This is far different from the original plan, which was a simple tunnel routing the rail trail under the highway. The tunnel plan is safer and simpler.

What to do

On Thursday, August 4, the Department of Transportation is holding a public meeting at 6 p.m. at West Running Brook School in Derry. The purpose of the meeting is to present the DOT’s preferred plan to the public. It’s unclear how much opportunity there will be for public input. That’s not going to stop advocates for pedestrian and bicyclist safety from making an impression simply by showing up.

Attend if you can, wearing something that’s a bright “safety yellow” color. The New Hampshire Rail Trails Coalition’s Facebook page has more information about the meeting. (Full disclosure: I’m on the NHRTC board.)

Improve I-93? By all means. Build exit 4-A, which has been in the works for years? I’m OK with that. Let that project advance the safety interests of all transportation users, not just drivers. The tunnel plan would do just that.

Proposed exit 4-A project, showing Derry Rail Trail proposed path: brown line indicates the tunnel plan, while the blue line indicates the more convoluted plan favored by NHDOT. Image from Bike-Walk Alliance of New Hampshire (bwanh.org)

For more information

The Bike-Walk Alliance of New Hampshire has a helpful information page that includes illustrations and narrative descriptions of each of the proposed plans.

BWANH’s conclusion is right on target: “New Hampshire will be stuck with the outcome of this project for many years to come. Let’s get it right, and do it right the first time.”

Visit the trail now

You don’t have to wait for the completion of the Derry Rail Trail to enjoy the segment that’s open now. Start from Windham Junction and head north on the paved trail. You’ll see and hear I-93, but soon the trailside wetlands with their birds and flora will capture your attention. Watch along the way for the artistic tributes to poet Robert Frost, who once taught nearby. As you approach NH Route 102 in central Derry, plan a stop at one of the businesses that support the trail, such as The Grind coffee shop.

All along the way, remember: safety first.

pond at Hood Park, Derry, New Hampshire
Hood Park in Derry NH, seen from Derry Rail Trail. Ellen Kolb photo.

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