JAFFREY — Long-running plans to build two roundabouts in downtown Jaffrey are moving forward, after state officials recently acquired an apartment building slated to be demolished for the work.
The project, which is meant to eliminate downtown congestion, would replace a five-way intersection — where Main Street, Blake Street, Stratton Road, Turnpike Road (Route 124) and Route 202 converge — with a new roundabout. One spoke of that hub would connect with another roundabout via a new bridge over the Contoocook River.
N.H. Department of Transportation officials expect to start construction on the state-funded project, which is slated to cost $8.6 million, in early to mid-2023, according to project manager Tobey Reynolds.
To make way for the new traffic pattern, state officials plan to demolish two nearby buildings: Lab ‘n Lager Food & Spirits at 4 Stratton Road and a six-unit apartment building at 15 River St. (The tavern closed last summer after its owner, Doni Ash, said he had struggled to hire and retain employees due to their concerns about the future of the business.)
The transportation department now owns both sites, after acquiring Lab ‘n Lager in January and the River Street property from owner Rob Cummings in May, according to property records. Cummings, a Jaffrey resident, said he was given $475,000 for his property.
The state’s formal acquisition of 15 River St. — which he knew would be taken for the project — “actually kind of just came out of the blue,” he said.
At least six tenants are still living at the property, which previously housed as many as 11 people, he said Wednesday. Cummings said he doesn’t know when the remaining tenants will need to leave, noting that the state will help them find new housing and compensate them if there’s a rent increase.
Crews will likely demolish the two buildings next summer, according to Reynolds.
A design for the roundabout project is also set to be completed soon, he said, after officials got permission last month from the Executive Council to request a final proposal from the Bedford civil engineering firm VHB.
Jaffrey’s director of planning and economic development, Jo Anne Carr, has said that by eliminating congestion downtown, the project would bring more pedestrians to the area and help local businesses.
But abutters have complained about what they describe as a lack of communication from state and local officials, saying they haven’t been given a voice in the roundabout plans.
Kelly Omu, who lives in a single-family home on River Street that would be flanked by the new bridge, told The Sentinel she worries it would reduce her property’s value. Omu said she doesn’t plan to move from the house, which she’s owned since 2015, but that it would be difficult to find a new place if necessary.
“I don’t really have anywhere I can afford to go right now during the pandemic,” she said. “There’s nothing that’s affordable.”
Carr has said the roundabout project, which resulted from a 2004 traffic study by the town, has received plenty of local input.
Jaffrey’s selectboard asked her to oversee the proposal when she was hired in August 2008, before it had been accepted by the state, she told The Sentinel last summer. Even under state management, Carr said a committee of local business owners, residents and town officials has advised the transportation department.
“We wanted to be sure that our community was well-represented in any design decisions that the engineers came up with,” she said at the time. “DOT was quite welcoming to the town to be sitting at the table while we were sculpting the project and ensuring the local advocacy committee was embedded in the scope.”
Before starting work on the roundabouts, transportation officials also plan to host two or three more public meetings to share with Jaffrey residents a schedule for the project and its potential effect on area traffic and businesses, according to Reynolds.
Officials also want to work with town staff to display information about the project, such as the proposed layout and schedule, in front of the former Lab ‘n Lager, he said.
“That’s something that’s coming,” he said.