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There’s a product out there than can do amazing things when it comes to preventing ice build-up on New Hampshire roadways during the winter. It’s extremely cheap, very environmentally friendly, and can spread itself almost everywhere. It’s called the Sun! Enter the “Brontosaurus”. Not the very large dinosaur that could reach the tops of trees for food, but a piece of rented equipment that can do the same thing. The modern Brontosaurus, essentially a chipper mounted on an excavator, is able to reach foliage that would be difficult, dangerous, and time consuming for the NHDOT to remove. Its benefits include: (1) Environmental - The removal of trees immediately along the roadside makes possible a greater infiltration of sunlight during the winter months. This allows for the roadway to return to bare pavement faster after a storm and reduces the use of salt in sections that have greater sunlight exposure. This saves money and reduces the impact on the environment. During an average winter, the NHDOT spends over 10 million dollars on rock salt; (2) Safety - The Department removes trees along the roadside to improve sight distance as well as sign recognition. In addition, the added clear zone provided allows for greater driver reaction distance for either roadway departures or for recognition of roadside hazards (i.e. animal crossings); (3) Mobility - Best summed up by a comment from a patrol foreman. “This machine can get done in a day what it would take my crew a week.” This efficiency means the need for fewer lane closures and thus less inconvenience to the travelling public; (4) Injury reduction -This operation allows for the mechanical means of removing foliage and trees that are often on hazardous terrain. To do this work by hand would involve needing to haul brush up a slope to a chipper, and then either hauling the chips away or depositing them back on the slope. The Brontosaurus is able to clear brush and trees up to a diameter of about 6 to 8 inches. Larger trees being removed will have stumps that remain temporarily until DOT maintenance crews return and cut the stumps off at ground level. This highly visible work has not been without some misperceptions and consternation. Some motorists who have seen the stumps and complained about their appearance (before the crews return) are not seeing the whole picture. Effective tree trimming makes for a safer driving experience for motorists. Unlike its extinct predecessor, this Brontosaurus is clearly our friend and its work benefits us all.
It was almost nine years ago, in July of 2005, that the first project associated with the rebuilding and widening of Interstate 93 between Salem and Manchester was advertised. It was a new bus terminal for Exit 4 in Derry, part of the effort to encourage more travel by bus during along the 20-mile corridor that was facing construction work for many years. As the construction season of 2014 gets underway, one of the most ambitious construction projects ever undertaken by the New Hampshire Department of Transportation is now approaching 60% complete, with $352 million in construction projects either active or complete. The need to rebuild and widen I-93 in New Hampshire’s southern tier remains as important as ever. The four lane highway built in the early 1960′s to handle 60,000 vehicles a day now regularly tops 100,000 vehicles a day at the Massachusetts state line. The safety and capacity improvements this project brings will ensure mobility and safe travel for decades to come along this vital economic lifeline for New Hampshire. This week I toured the progress at Exit 3 in Windham at the request of U.S. Congresswoman Ann McLane Kuster, along with the chairs of the New Hampshire Senate and House Transportation Committees. It’s truly impressive to see the work that has been done to rebuild the interchange and construct massive new northbound and southbound bridges over NH Route 111. This work continues with special attention to keeping traffic flowing and to protect the sensitive enviromental surroundings that include Canobie Lake and Cobbetts Pond. By the end of 2015, all 19 “Red List” bridges along the corridor will have been replaced or rehabilitated and traffic will be flowing on the prioritized sections that include the 6 mile segment from Exit 1 in Salem to Exit 3 in Windham. Still to be addressed are capacity improvements in the northern segment, with construction scheduled to begin in 2014 and completed in 2020. Funding that section ($250 Million) remains a challenge, but I am confident we will find a way to get this done and complete the project. Congresswoman Kuster is well aware of the transportation funding uncertainties with the Highway Trust Fund at the Federal level. “We must make repairing our roads and bridges a top priority,” said Congresswoman Kuster said following the I-93 tour. “Projects like the I-93 expansion not only help protect the safety of Granite State residents, they also provide better transportation options for our state’s workers, spur the economy, and create jobs. I call on House Leadership to work to quickly find a solution to fund the Highway Trust fund, which is so critical to projects like the one I toured today.”
Every session of the New Hampshire Legislature requires numerous visits by NHDOT representatives who are testifying at public hearings on proposed Bills that could affect transportation. Much of this legislation goes before the House Public Works Committee, which specializes in transportation matters. This committee is well versed on all things transportation, but like all of us, it doesn’t hurt to get out of the office once in a while and see things first-hand. That was the idea behind a recent bus tour which took about 20 House members (mostly from Public Works) to places they hear about but rarely see. Sponsored by the New Hampshire Good Roads Association and Concord Coach, the tour featured stops at a NHDOT maintenance facility in Northwood, the Little Bay Bridge widening and rehabilitation project in Dover-Newington, the Sarah Long Bridge in Portsmouth, and the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine. The first stop at the Northwood #604 patrol shed just off Route 4 gave the lawmakers an up-close and personal interaction with just one of scores of NHDOT maintenance crews who continue to battle a pretty severe New Hampshire winter. They heard from those on the front lines, and got a good sense of their resourcefulness, their dedication, and their abilities to the job done. The stop at the Long Bridge, New Hampshire’s #1 “Red List” bridge was a real eye-opener for some. “It’s just in terrible shape,” Rep. Virginia Irwin, of Newport, told WMUR TV. “I don’t know that I’d ever drive over it.” In fact the bus carrying the lawmakers was too heavy to drive over the weight-restricted lift bridge, which has a $150 million price tag for replacement. And why did a bus filled with New Hampshire lawmakers need to go to Maine? The answer was to hear directly from top officials at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard about why they see a continued rail link to the Shipyard via the Long Bridge as crucial to the facility’s future. The cited the Shipyard’s vital military role and its economic impact of over $1 Billion a year to the seacoast region. There were a lot of stops and a lot of information for the lawmakers to digest and consider. Some may still question certain projects or proposals. But each completed the transportation tour with a better appreciation and a clearer picture of the many challenges of meeting New Hampshire’s transportation needs.
No one was thinking rain during the first frigid weekend of January when the thermometer and wind chills were dropping to five year lows in New Hampshire. On a quiet Sunday morning, Assistant Commissioner Jeff Brillhart stopped by the NHDOT headquarters, the J.O. Morton Building in Concord, to catch up on some work. He happened to glance towards the Bureau of Finance and Contracts and was stunned by what he saw. It was raining. Water was pouring down from ceiling tiles into the first floor hallway. Calls went out for help, and the extent of the problem soon became glaringly apparent. A water pipe in a rooftop HVAC unit had apparently frozen and broke, sending many thousands of gallons of water into the western end of the building. The damage was extensive and far reaching. Three floors of offices and work stations took a major hit and the damage was widespread. Saturated tiles fell onto desks and computers were soaked, as were papers, desks, and rugs and personal mementos. The truly amazing story soon became the quick action of the first responders. On that first day, managers and employees worked side by side to move furniture, save documents, and start the process of drying out and recovery. Some employees discovered the damage when they showed up for work on Monday. They too, quickly became part of the solution. Instead of complaining about their unfortunate plight, everyone just lowered their heads and went to work to address the damage and temporarily relocate. The positive attitudes were contagious. By mid-morning on that first day after the flood, Finance and Contracts was back in business. The “cavalry” to the rescue came in the form of employees from the Department of Administrative Services, the Office of Information Technology, and carpenter shop from the Mechanical Services Bureau. Rugs were pulled, damaged drywall was cut out, and electronic equipment was taken apart and dried out. Furniture and files were moved and the offices became a temporary ghost town with the only sounds that of big blowers brought in by ServPro Inc. More significant damage was limited by the speed and correct actions of those involved in the response effort. As much as $650,000 in electronic equipment (i.e. computers, servers, printers, etc.) was saved. Within a few days, carpenters and painters from Administrative Services had repaired most of the damage. New sections of drywall and rugs were installed, walls were painted, and the empty offices began to spring to life. By the end of the month, normalcy had virtually returned to the previously damaged sections of DOT headquarters. With a little help from others, the NHDOT and its employees, already known for their ability to repair roads and bridges hit by natural disasters, had shown that very same resiliency and can-do attitude when a disaster hit home. A special thanks to all the first responders and the NHDOT employees who made the best of a truly difficult situation.
Less than half way through the winter of 2013-’14 and this one is already shaping up as one to be remembered. Every winter in northern New England has its challenges, but this one has really run the gamut for our plow crews. We’ve had the big snow storms, the long storms, brutally frigid cold, ice storms, wintry mixes, fluctuating temperatures, you name it. For one ten day stretch this January, it like seemed crews were being called out every day, night, and weekend for something, somewhere in New Hampshire. Veteran Department of Transportation highway maintainers like Felix “Bub” Gardner, Jr. climb into their trucks and set out to take on Mother Nature. Bub has been plowing the same 18 mile route (NH 43 and NH 107) in Deerfield for the State of New Hampshire for 29 years, the last 23 as a NHDOT employee. He heads south towards the Deerfield Fairgounds. “I know every nook and cranny on that route,” Bub Gardner says. “There’s more traffic to deal with now than when I started, but I still enjoy it. I enjoy trying to help other people out.” Snowstorms can go on for many hours. They’re a real test of a plow driver’s skills and endurance in maneuvering the plows, dispensing salt, and keeping a steady hand at the wheel. Bub is not a coffee drinker. His secret? “A Mountain Dew and a Snickers bar, that’s my combination that works.” Those who plow for the State of New Hampshire are good at keeping the roads safe, so good in fact that they are often taken for granted. They have set the bar high over the years. Today’s plow drivers have more technology and better machines at their disposal than ever before to help them do their jobs, but it’s still their skills and experience that make the difference. They are dedicated and take their challenging jobs very seriously. Bub Gardner speaks proudly of his co-workers at the District 6 Northwood #604 patrol shed. There’s a sense of camaraderie to help each other out if needed, and no shortage of experience. “It’s not their first rodeo.” For them, it’s personal. They are plowing the same roads that their friends and family are travelling every day. Bub Gardner has this message for those who venture out when it’s snowing – “Don’t crowd the plow. Give us enough space to do our jobs. You’re just as safe behind a plow truck as in your mother’s arms.”