Op-Ed: Build and revamp underground tunnels so pedestrians can safely cross Route 101 in Bedford

If you are concerned about safely crossing Route 101 on foot or by bicycle, we have an opportunity to voice our opinions! On Tuesday, May 13, at the Bedford High School cafeteria, the New Hampshire Department of Transportation (DOT) will be hosting a Combined Public Officials/Public Informational Meeting. This meeting will serve to inform the public about the proposed Route 101 improvements from Wallace Road to Route 114.

The meeting will consist of two parts. First, beginning at 5:30 p.m., an informal open house will allow the public to inspect the plans with the help of DOT staff. Second, a formal presentation will be given at 7 p.m.

According to the DOT, “The purpose of this meeting is to present citizens and public officials with information regarding the proposed project and to solicit public input in order to ensure that project decisions meet public transportation needs and community goals, and protect and enhance the environment.”

Like many other people in town, I would like very much to see the state provide safe ways to cross Route 101 on foot or by bicycle. Crosswalks and signalized pedestrian crossings would be a big help. However, I want to propose that the state do better than this.

Bedford is at a real disadvantage because Route 101, the major east-west highway in the state, bisects our town and really fragments it. We don’t have safe and practical ways to cross this highway without a car.

Our high school and middle school are on one side of the highway, and our library is on the other. I have seen – to my horror – high school students run across the highway from the Bedford Village Shops.

In some way, I understand this because of the easy access from the high school down Chestnut Drive. Any student who tries to cross at the traffic light at Wallace Road still has to walk down the side of the highway from the Village Shops to get to the traffic light.

Also, a student walking down the side of Nashua Road gets to the intersection with the highway and still doesn’t have a safe way to cross to the Bedford Youth Performing Company and the library.

In 1993, the Bedford Land Trust asked an engineer to study a possible way to cross the highway at the Nashua Road-Bell Hill Road intersection. The engineer reported that it would be feasible to provide an underground passageway at this intersection.

This could be well-lighted and monitored by the Bedford police and would provide a safe way for walkers and bikers to go from one side of the highway to the other.

We should also remember that during preparation of the 2000 Bedford Master Plan, a number of creative suggestions were made with the idea of tying the two halves of town together. These included, for example, a combined roadway and pedestrian underpass at Nashua Road and Bell Hill Road.

As wonderful as it would be to have one road in town that would provide passage from one side of town to the other without having to cross Route 101, I realize that this would be an even more major project for the state and town.

In addition, near the Bedford Village Inn remains a cattle crossing underneath Route 101. This was put under the highway when it was built in the early 1950s because the Wheelers, who lived in what is now the BVI, raised Shetland ponies. Sometimes, they pastured the ponies on their land across the highway, and the state provided safe passage under the highway.

The tunnel is still there, although it is only about five feet high. I would like to propose that the state replace this tunnel with a taller one that would also be lighted and monitored.

This could be tied into a pathway coming from Constitution Drive so that the office workers who walk in the area could cross under the highway instead of having to dart across it at Constitution Drive.

If you like these ideas or have any other good ideas, please be sure to attend the state’s meeting on Tuesday, May 13, beginning at 5:30 p.m. Or write to the DOT to express your opinion regarding Project 13953 to Christopher D. Clement Sr., Commissioner, NH Department of Transportation, P.O. Box 483, Concord, NH 03302-0483.

The more people who participate in the process, the better it will be for all of us in Bedford. Let us jointly raise our voices in support of several safe ways to cross this divide. Here is our opportunity to ask the state to provide safety for our children and for all who live and work in town.

We have to put up with a major highway bisecting our town. Surely the state is able to help us tie the two parts of Bedford together.

Please come to voice your opinion!