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Rindge assesses impact of streetlight cutbacks

RINDGE — The N.H. Department of Transportation has proposed to continue lighting just two of the 13 streetlights it maintains at the intersection of Route 119 and Route 202, perhaps the busiest crossroads in town. But Rindge officials, a state representative and Franklin Pierce University administrators are asking for a second review of the proposal out of concern for public safety.

Rep. Susan Emerson, a Rindge Republican, told the Ledger-Transcript on Wednesday that town officials are working with the DOT and Public Service of New Hampshire to test two different lighting options at the intersection: keeping four lights on versus two. It is unclear at this time when the tests will be done, but Emerson said she is confident the town and state will be able to reach a compromise.

“This is a retirement town and a college community,” Emerson said. “We really do need that intersection to be lit well.”

The DOT announced earlier this year its plans to shut off a large number of the 3,000 streetlights it maintains throughout the state in order to save up to $600,000 in annual utility bills. The cost of maintaining streetlights eats up about 45 percent of the DOT’s utility budget, according to DOT Public Information Officer Bill Boynton.

After hearing about the DOT’s plan to eliminate 11 lights at the 119-202 intersection , Franklin Pierce University President James Birge sent a letter to Emerson in July expressing his concern about FPU students’ safety. It was soon after that, Emerson said, that a meeting with state and town officials to address the issue was organized.

In an email to the Ledger-Transcript on Monday, Birge wrote, “I am concerned about the effect the proposal has on Franklin Pierce University students who access this intersection as they walk, bike and drive to local businesses. As the town of Rindge considers plans to redevelop this area of town as a gateway to the Monadnock Region, I worry that the state’s decision to limit lighting is short-sighted.”

DOT’s Director of Operations William Janelle said Monday that the DOT based its proposal on how many streetlights it would install, if the same intersection was built in town today.

“At this intersection initially, we had looked at turning all but two streetlights off, but there were some concerns about doing that,” he said.

Regardless of what happens with the two tests at the intersection of Route 119 and Route 202 in Rindge, Janelle said all towns have the option of leaving additional lights on, but they have to pay the associated costs. The cost of maintaining one streetlight is about $400 a year.

Interim Rindge Police Chief Frank Morrill said last week that he believes there should be at least one light on each corner of the four-way intersection where Route 119 and Route 202 merge. The four streetlights combined with residual lighting from Fogg’s Mini Mart on Route 202 will ensure that the intersection is safely lit for drivers and pedestrians, he said.

“The DOT mentioned that the distance newer [vehicle] headlights will cover will pass through the intersection, but light doesn’t bend around corners,” Morrill said. “If you have someone in the breakdown lane or a pedestrian that has to cross diagonally, and there’s only two streetlights lit, you won’t see them until the last minute.”

In Dublin, where the DOT proposed turning off one streetlight at the intersection of Route 101 and Chesham Road, the Select Board voted this summer to take financial responsibility for it.

In Jaffrey, five of seven state-maintained streetlights could be shut off — all four at the intersection of Route 202, Old Sharon Road and Nutting Road, as well as the streetlight at the intersection of Stratton Road and Turnpike Road.

It is unclear at this time whether or not the town will pick up the cost for those streetlights.

Alyssa Dandrea can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 228 or adandrea@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter at @alyssadandrea.

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