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“Everyone Wins With Research and Innovation.” Those words spoken by the Federal Highway Administration’s Patrick Bauer summed up why those of us in transportation must never sit still when it comes to the way we do business. The FHWA Administrator for New Hampshire was speaking at the opening of the “2013 NHDOT Research and Innovation Showcase.” The four hour event in Concord was organized by the NHDOT’s Materials and Research Bureau. It featured over 40 displays and formal presentations focusing on recent research and innovations developed and/or implemented by the Department of Transportation that have resulted in cost-savings, safety improvements, and enhanced environmental stewardship. Coincidentally, the November 13th event was held one day after I was in Indianapolis, Indiana accepting a national award on behalf of the NHDOT for “excellence in pavement preservation.” The 2013 James B. Sorenson Award is a BIG deal in the pavement world, and the NHDOT is only the third state Department of Transportation so honored. It’s awarded by the Foundation for Pavement Preservation, which has the organizational theme of, “ The right treatment, for the right road, at the right time.” I should also add “at the right cost and right now” because pavement preservation treatments effectively add life to a road at a fraction of the cost of full road reconstruction. Saving taxpayers money is certainly not as sexy a story as one that seeks to highlight government waste, but virtually every display at this showcase highlighted cost-savings or efficiencies combined with technological improvements and environmental protection. The displays included: the NHDOT’s dramatic increase in the use of recycled asphalt, the installation of wood-burning boilers at patrol sheds, the latest tools in winter snow and ice control and removal, high performance bridge coatings, the latest in stormwater treatment systems, and low-cost initiatives for traffic safety, to name a few. Patrick Bauer cited the NHDOT as “a leader in the country in the use of warm mix asphalt,” which allows us to place pavement at lower temperatures and thus saving energy while lowering emissions and extending the paving season. He called it “astounding” that we use recycled asphalt in 99% of our paving projects. Of course we can always improve in all areas of our mission, but the NHDOT remains committed to using its resources wisely, with the goal of better, faster, and cheaper for long-lasting transportation.
The first line from NH Public Radio reporter Chris Jensen’s story was right on the mark. It was, in fact, “hard to imagine there have been many openings of roadside scenic areas that attracted three former governors, a sitting governor and two US Senators as well as dozens of state office holders.” While the new Mt. Washington Scenic Overlook will provide a better, safer, and no doubt popular stop for visitors to the region, the real reason for the “Who’s Who” gathering of past and present elected leaders in New Hampshire was to pay tribute to the ailing “Dean of the Executive Council.” Ray Burton has steadfastly served the northern region of the state (with one two year break) since 1977. Ray has always been a strong supporter of transportation, recognizing its vital importance to his beloved North Country. He has tirelessly promoted big and small projects with the NHDOT Commissioner during his annual “District One Transportation Tour.” Every year also means Councilor Burton’s “District One Airport Tour” to promote aviation. And he’s always loved those train rides in support of rail. While never shying away from the political issues of the day, Ray Burton is now in the toughest fight of his life, battling the return of cancer that has taken a toll on his legendary stamina. Anyone who attended the November 1st event in Bretton Woods will not forget it. Heavy rain and winds gave way to sunny skies just in time for Ray’s 1975 Oldsmobile convertible to make its way down the long driveway from the Mt. Washington Hotel to the new overlook on the other side of US Route 302. Seated beside Governor Maggie Hassan in the back seat, Ray waved to those in lining both sides of the entrance holding signs that read, “Burton for Certain – Thanks Ray!” I was honored to introduce Governor Hassan, former Governor John Lynch, and U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Kelly Ayotte, who all paid tribute to Ray and his many years of public service with anecdotes that brought laughter, applause, and genuine displays of appreciation and respect. A privately funded stone marker in tribute to Councilor Burton was unveiled, and Governor Hassan announced an effort is already underway to name the overlook after the Bath resident. Not to let the moment pass without comment, Ray took the microphone and said, “You learn very quickly don’t get too puffed up about all these things that come your way, because, chances are, somebody, before I get out of here today will un-puff me about all of this. Today is one of those times I really love being in public service and public life.”
A terrible incident last month that resulted in the tragic deaths of two bicyclists has once again fueled public discussions about the responsibilities of motorists and bicyclists using New Hampshire roadways. According to police, the car involved was traveling south on NH Route 1A at a high rate of speed when it suddenly crossed the double yellow line and struck a group of bicyclists participating in the Granite State Wheelman Century Ride near the Hampton-Seabrook town line. The driver is facing multiple felony charges, including two charges of negligent homicide. While this appears to be a case of reckless driving, it was disturbing to read public comments on news media websites from some who vented about having to share the roads with bicyclists. Many seemed to be unaware of New Hampshire law. Bicycles, cars, trucks, motor homes, horses, and farm tractors can all be found on our roads. Each has the same legal right to be there. Under NH Law, “Every driver of a vehicle, when approaching a bicyclist, shall insure the safety and protection of the bicyclist and shall exercise due care by leaving a reasonable and prudent distance between the vehicle and the bicycle.” That distance should be at least three feet when the motor vehicle is traveling at less than 30 MPH, and an additional foot of clearance for every additional 10 MPH. Bicyclists using the roadways must also abide by state law. For example, persons riding at least two abreast “shall not impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic and, on a laned roadway, shall ride within a single lane.” The New Hampshire Department of Transportation recognizes bicycles as a valid form of transportation. We’re working to make sure bicyclists and pedestrians are considered when we design new roads and bridges. One recent example is the new Memorial Bridge in Portsmouth, which has sidewalks and bicycle lanes in both directions. To assist with future road and bridge designs, our agency is working the Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation Advisory Committee (BPTAC). The BPTAC’s diverse group of stakeholders provides input to help the NHDOT work toward making New Hampshire roads safer for all users. Everyone using New Hampshire roads has a right to expect to arrive safely at their destination. Showing respect and courtesy, and sharing the roads safely and responsibly is in everyone’s interest.
Ever wonder how New Hampshire accommodates up to 100,000 spectators and 37,000 vehicles twice a year for NASCAR races at New Hampshire Motor Speedway? For 20 years, a Traffic Control Committee (TCC) comprised of representatives of the New Hampshire Department of Transportation, local officials, New Hampshire State Police, and New Hampshire Motor Speedway has worked to ensure that auto racing fans, and other New Hampshire visitors, enjoy safe and smooth rides throughout the busy weekends. The process includes careful review of all roadways coming to and from the Loudon track, as well as an overview of any construction projects that might cause potential delays. For example, this year traffic accommodations are planned at the I-93/I-89 interchange in Bow-Concord due to construction work. The TCC has worked to inform the public of lane constrictions, and is planning for efficient traffic flow in spite of the ongoing project. Each year, letters go out to local communities and news releases are sent to statewide media to ensure the public is informed of traffic patterns throughout the area. In addition, messages are posted on electronic message boards along the state’s major roadways to alert travelers to delays, lane changes, and alternate routes. The process is an impressive one. Members of the TCC use detailed maps to discuss and plan potential issues, setting into motion comprehensive plans for traffic control before, during, and after the big event. The traffic control plan has taken years of tweaking and refining, and the committee is continually learning something new about better accommodating the large number of vehicles. The New Hampshire Motor Speedway NASCAR races attract large crowds of spectators and are a big economic boost for the state. At the NHDOT, we hope everyone using the highways in the Granite State gets to their destinations safely, and enjoys the ride along the way.
Anyone stopping by the NH Department of Transportation headquarters on Concord on August 28th had to be impressed. An emphasis on good health was everywhere. The event was the 5th Annual NHDOT Wellness Fair – “A Peaceful State of Mind”, where 26 vendors from health clubs to massage therapists espoused the many benefits of healthy living. A journey to one part of the Morton Building found students from the MCPHS University campus in Manchester putting employees through biometric testing that included blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar. There were stress reduction tips from the Employee Assistance Program. Breathe NH provided respiratory testing. The Elliot Sleep Evaluation Center was on hand to share the benefits of a good night’s sleep. The Wellness Fair is more than just a temporary diversion from the workplace. It’s all part of a concentrated effort by the NHDOT to promote a healthy workforce. In 2006, Governor John Lynch signed an Executive Order “Relative to State Employee Wellness” aimed not only at reducing health care costs, but also towards establishing worksite health programs to help employees adopt healthier lifestyles. The NHDOT has been among the leaders in this effort, with a full-time Wellness Coordinator (Paula Nash) and a number of ongoing initiatives aimed at helping our employees be as healthy as possible. At this year’s Wellness Fair, several DOT employees were recognized for their good health habits, being an inspiration for their co-workers, and, in some cases, positive lifestyle changes. For example, Mike Dugas from the Highway Design Bureau has taken up running and regularly competes in 5K races. Mike says he is in better shape now that when he was in high school. All state employees can now take advantage of a number of wellness programs that include tobacco cessation, diabetes education, healthy body weight, preventive health screenings, and physical activity. At the NHDOT we have jobs that can be physically demanding, such as highway and bridge maintainers. Others may sit at their desks working on computers for hours at a time. As Commissioner, it’s my hope that all of our employees will see the benefits and do what it takes to be as healthy as possible all year round, for themselves, their families and their futures.