Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY -- When Melissa Polk first moved into her family’s long-time home on Kilrea Road — just feet from Route 28 and one of the state’s most dangerous intersections — she said it took some getting used to.
“It’s noisy and there’s no privacy. You hear that screech and everybody in the house just braces for it,” said Polk in an interview at her home last week. “It’s an awful sound to hear, but by now it’s almost become normal. I’m usually the one who calls the police, at least every few weeks.”
Derry police Capt. Vern Thomas said his department has logged 57 accidents at the fourway intersection of Route 28, Kilrea Road and Windham Depot Road since 2002.
Polk said a fatal crash in 1995 and an accident in 1998 that sent a vehicle into the living room stick out most in her mind.
“I don’t even let my kids go out to get the mail,” she said. Her two daughters are 10 and 15.
But by the fall of 2012, state highway officials say the intersection should be much safer, with the addition of turning lanes off Route 28 in both directions and the installation of a new signalized traffic light. A blinking traffic light was installed in the mid-90s.
The project also includes a widening of the road shoulders to 4 feet and the addition of a paved apron on the rail trail that crosses Route 28 to prevent gravel from getting onto the roadway, said project manager William Oldenberg, with the New Hampshire Department of Transportation.
With the number and severity of the intersection’s accidents, Oldenberg said the Derry project qualifies for a portion of the state’s $5.5 million in annual federal funding for highway safety improvement. That money is set aside to improve the most dangerous roadways statewide, he said, and usually fund between six and eight projects every year.
Derry’s million-dollar Route 28 project will go out to bid in the winter of 2012 and should be completed that summer, he said.
The state has held two public hearings in Derry to address the project, after which Oldenberg said project staff have continued to tweak the proposal.
Polk and her father, Webb Palmer, have been vocal about the project from the start. Palmer, 75, owns the home at 2 Kilrea Road.
While Polk said she supports anything that can be done to improve the safety of the intersection, she and Palmer have advocated without success for about a year that the home at 2 Kilrea Road be moved away from the road as part of the project.
“I appreciate them finding a way to put in the intersection so people can be safe and hopefully no one else will die,” Polk said. “I know there’s no perfect plan to make everyone happy, but I’m a little disappointed with how this is being done.”
Palmer, 75, said he also supports the intersection improvements, but worries about the noise and car fumes that would continue to fill the house.
“People that don’t live there don’t understand,” said Palmer, who grew up in the Kilrea Road home and now lives in East Derry. “It’s easy to say we’re going to do this and the problem is solved. Yes, one of the biggest problems will be solved, but there are others.”
The current plan will take a small amount of land from the opposite side of the road to accommodate the widening, Oldenberg said, but Palmer’s house and land will be untouched.
“(Palmer’s) house is very close to the road and we understand that, but we don’t directly impact it,” Oldenberg said. “The traffic isn’t moving closer to the house than it is today, so we can’t really justify acquiring the house or moving the house. The funding we’re using limits us from being able to do that.”
Oldenberg said project staff will look into the potential environmental impacts of the project, like increased pollution, as they would with any similar proposals.
“It’s not only about the physical impact, but also a qualityof- life impact,” he said. “It’s something we weigh on every project, but we also weigh the safety. And our hope is that this will be a safer intersection when it’s completed.”
And as the notoriety of the intersection has grown, Polk said things seem to be getting safer already.
“People get impatient waiting there, so they just pull out and try to gun it,” Polk said. “But there’s been so much publicity that you do see some people stopping to let other drivers out now. It’s like, Wow, nobody ever used to do that before.”