This 2003 photo shows the northbound Alan B. Shepard Highway (I-93) approaching EXIT 2 (NH 38 and NH 97) in Salem. Chronic congestion along I-93 in southern New Hampshire has prompted a project to double capacity to four lanes in each direction. Note the legacy EXIT 2 guide sign featuring button-copy letters and non-standard square NH 38 and NH 97 shields. (Photo by Jim K. Georges.)
A TOLL-FREE ROUTE TO MASSACHUSETTS: In 1955, the Federal Bureau of Public Roads (BPR) selected several routes in the Boston area for the preliminary Interstate highway network. To serve the corridor between Boston, northern Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire, the BPR originally selected a route along the Everett Turnpike in New Hampshire, which was under construction at the time--and the Northwest Expressway (US 3) in Massachusetts, much of which already had been built as a four-lane route.
One year later, the New Hampshire Department of Public Works and Highways, along with the Massachusetts Department of Public Works (MassDPW), submitted an alternate corridor along the current I-93 as its preferred route for the Interstate system; the BPR subsequently approved this route. The new route was to bypass Manchester and Nashua to the east, and continue south toward Boston along the then-proposed Northern Expressway (I-93). The allure of 90 percent Federal funding to construct a new arterial route--the remaining ten percent was obtained from state and local funds--seemed too appealing for the two states to pass up.
The 26 miles of "toll-free" I-93 from the New Hampshire-Massachusetts state line north to the Everett Turnpike was to be a four-lane route along the entire length. Planning for the new "toll-free" I-93 began in 1958, and construction began the following year.
The initial three-mile-long section of I-93 from the New Hampshire-Massachusetts state line north to EXIT 2 (NH 38 / NH 97) in Salem was opened to traffic in August 1961. The original trumpet ramps at EXIT 2 did not have ramps from southbound I-93 and to northbound I-93; these ramps were added in the late 1960's.
Toward the end of 1961, a three-mile-long section opened north from EXIT 2 to EXIT 3 (NH 111) in Windham, along with a two-mile-long section in Manchester that forms an "overlap" with NH 101 between EXIT 5A (I-293 / NH 101) and EXIT 7 (NH 101 Expressway). An additional 14-mile-long section of the Salem-Hooksett section of I-93 from EXIT 3 to EXIT 5A opened in late 1962.
Although motorists were able to complete their through journey through New Hampshire along I-293 / NH 101 (completed in 1961) and the Everett Turnpike (completed through Manchester in 1957), there remained a five-mile-long gap on the originally mapped I-93 between EXIT 7 in Manchester and EXIT 10A (I-293 / Everett Turnpike) in Hooksett. Additional ramps and bridges were built at EXIT 7 for a future northward extension of I-93, but these stood unused for a decade and a half. Construction of the "missing link" did not begin until 1974. In anticipation of rising traffic trends, this section was designed with six through lanes instead of four, and to protect nearby communities, the first sound walls in the state were built along this section. This final section of "toll-free" I-93 in southern New Hampshire was completed in 1977. In conjunction with this project, roadways and bridges along the existing I-93 / NH 101 overlap through Manchester were doubled in capacity to four lanes each direction.
NAMED AFTER A LOCAL HERO: Prior to the opening of the first section of I-93, the entire Salem-to-Hooksett segment was named after Alan Shepard, a Derry native and naval test pilot who on May 5, 1961 became the second human--and first American--to travel in space aboard his ship Freedom 7. (Less than one month earlier, Yuri Gagarin was the first human to travel in space under the Soviet space program.) Shepard later gained fame in the Apollo 14 lunar mission in 1971 as the then-oldest astronaut and the astronaut who played golf on the moon. From 1963 to 1974 Shepard also headed NASA's Chief of the Astronaut Office, who coordinated the missions and activities for all astronauts. Shepard retired from the Navy and NASA in 1974, and for many years thereafter served on a number of corporate boards. He died in 1998 after a two-year battle with leukemia.
This 2005 photo shows the southbound Alan B. Shepard Highway (I-93) approaching EXIT 4 (NH 102) in Londonderry. A new EXIT 4A is being planned to serve downtown Derry, though plans for the new interchange are being kept separate from the I-93 widening project. (Photo by Jim K. Georges.)
WIDENING FROM SALEM TO MANCHESTER: According to the New Hampshire Department of Transportation (NHDOT), the Alan B. Shepard Highway carries approximately 110,000 vehicles per day (AADT) through Salem, about 75,000 per day through the Londonderry area; about 85,000 per day along the co-signed I-93 / NH 101 section in Manchester, and about 60,000 per day along the Manchester-to-Hooksett section. When it opened, I-93 served primarily recreational traffic, but lower taxes and a more exurban lifestyle eventually lured families and later businesses to the Granite State, creating more congestion on I-93.
Faced with projections of as many as 140,000 vehicles per day on I-93, the state recommended doubling the capacity of I-93 to eight lanes from the New Hampshire-Massachusetts border north to EXIT 5A in Manchester as early as 1985. Officials from the NHDOT spent years conducting public hearings and drafting environmental impact statements, but costs loomed large as an issue.
In June 2005, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) issued a record of decision authorizing the funding and construction of the eight-lane expansion. However, the project was held up by a 2006 lawsuit filed by the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF), which charged federal and state officials with not including a commuter rail alternative in planning documents. A judge upheld the lawsuit in 2007, though the state and the CLF agreed on $22 million in contracts to replace seven structurally deficient bridges along I-93 that needed work regardless of whether the eight-lane widening project proceeded. (Another 15 out of 47 bridges along this stretch of I-93 were labeled structurally deficient, but not in imminent need of replacement.) Other projects tied to the widening but not affected by the judicial delay included interchange ramp realignments at EXIT 1 and EXIT 3, construction of a park-and-ride lot at EXIT 2, and the construction of a combined bus terminal and park-and-ride lot at EXIT 5 (NH 28) in Londonderry.
The actual widening project began in June 2009 and is expected to continue through 2017. Most of the $611 million construction cost is being picked up by the Federal government, though the state is hard pressed to finance even its 20 percent portion. Officials are considering the implementation of a $2 southbound toll plaza between EXIT 1 and the New Hampshire-Massachusetts border. Across the border in Massachusetts, state officials are considering widening the existing six-lane section of I-93 from the border south to EXIT 41 (MA 125) in Wilmington to eight lanes to prevent bottlenecks between the eight-lane sections to the north and south.
PROPOSED EXIT 4A: Not part of the widening project is a proposal to build a new EXIT 4A (near milepost 13) that would connect I-93 with Derry Village (Ross' Corner) near the Hood Village shopping center on NH 28 via a new connector road. The project, which is intended to relieve congestion at EXIT 4 (NH 102), dates back to 1985 when it was first proposed by officials in Derry and Londonderry. In 1988, the NHDOT submitted the proposed EXIT 4A to the FHWA; three years later, the FHWA approved the project subject to environmental reviews. After 15 years of public hearings and reviews, the FHWA issued a record of decision in 2006 that made the following recommendations:
A new diamond interchange would be built for EXIT 4A about one mile north of the existing EXIT 4.
A new four-lane connector road would be built on undeveloped land from I-93 to the intersection of Folsom Road and North High Street. The new road would be one mile in length and have an 18-foot-wide median to accommodate future turn lanes.
The existing Folsom Road would be widened to a four-lane divided configuration, possibly requiring the condemnation of adjoining residential properties. Local streets also would be upgraded.
The EXIT 4A project is estimate to cost $25 million--$5 million of which would be financed by a bond approved in 1997--though the NHDOT has not allocated any funds in the state's 10-year program for its construction. Some residents have objected to the EXIT 4A project on the grounds that the new interchange would not ease congestion effectively on NH 102, and that most of the traffic entering Derry comes from south of EXIT 4, not north of the exit. Instead, they instead have suggested either improving the existing EXIT 4 and widening NH 102, or building a new EXIT 3A (North Lowell Road) near milepost 9 in Windham. (The NHDOT already owns right-of-way ramp easements for a potential future EXIT 3A.)
This 2003 photo shows the northbound Alan B. Shepard Highway (I-93) approaching EXIT 7 (NH 101 Expressway) in Manchester. Originally built in the early 1960's as a four-lane freeway, the I-93 section between EXIT 5A (I-293 / NH 101) and EXIT 7 was widened to eight lanes in 1977. This widening project coincided with construction of the missing I-93 link between EXIT 7 and EXIT 10A (I-293 / Everett Turnpike); this project also was completed in 1977. (Photo by Jim K. Georges.)
The existing I-93 multiplex with NH 101 in Manchester should be re-designated as "I-93 / I-193" as part of the recommended renaming of the NH 101 Expressway from Bedford to Hampton as I-193.
SOURCES: "Exurbia Is Tasted in New Hampshire," The New York Times (2/05/1961); "A New Look in New England" by John C. Fenton, The New York Times (5/09/1965); "The Massachusetts Highway Story (1949-1969)," Massachusetts Department of Public Works (1969); Interstate 93 Improvements, Salem to Manchester: Final Environmental Impact Statement, Federal Highway Administration and New Hampshire Department of Transportation (2004); "50 Years Ago, Region Joined the Superhighway Era" by Dean Shalhoup, The Nashua Telegraph (8/21/2005); "New Hampshire Turnpike Timeline," The Nashua Telegraph (8/21/2005); "Spacetown, USA Parade Welcomed Home Alan Shepard" by Dean Shalhoup, The Nashua Telegraph (7/23/2007); "I-93 Widening in New Hampshire Set Back" by James Vaznis, The Boston Globe (8/31/2007); "Judge's Order To Further Delay I-93 Widening" by Tom Fahey, New Hampshire Union-Leader (9/01/2007); "Traffic Jam: Lawsuits, Budgets, and Why the I-93 Commute Isn't Getting Better" by Lisa Brown, Hippo Press (9/27/2007); "EXIT 4A Position Paper," Alliance of Derry Taxpayers (2007); I-93 EXIT 4A Interchange Study: Draft Environmental Impact Statement, Federal Highway Administration and New Hampshire Department of Transportation (2007); "I-93 Toll Proves To Be Hot Topic" by Derrick Perkins, New Hampshire Union-Leader (1/07/2009); "Relief Lies Ahead on Interstate" by Tom Long, The Boston Globe (6/11/2009); Astronautix.com; HistoricAerials.com; Josh Copeland; Alexander Svirsky.
I-93 and I-193 shields by Ralph Herman. Lightposts by Millerbernd Manufacturing Company.