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This 2006 photo shows the westbound NH 101 Expressway approaching EXIT 11 (NH 108) in Stratham. (Photo by Steve Anderson.)

NEW HAMPSHIRE'S EAST-WEST HIGHWAY: As early as 1944, the National Interregional Highway Committee included an east-west highway through northern New England as part of a proposed 48,300-mile Interstate highway network. However, the proposed alignment traversed sparsely populated areas near the Canadian border, and as it failed to meet minimum present and future traffic requirements, and the route subsequently was dropped from consideration in 1947.

By the dawn of the 1950s, work had progressed on the Maine and New Hampshire turnpikes, which eventually carried the I-95 designation. The passage of the 1956 Federal Highway Act included the proposed routes for I-89, I-91, I-93, but there still was no east-west route connecting these highways between Massachusetts and Quebec.

In 1956, Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Shaw proposed three north-south freeways in the state, tied together by an east-west freeway along the NH 101 corridor from Vermont to the Seacoast region. The statewide network of freeways would have cost $600 million, in contrast to the $132 million allocated for the Interstate system. It was to have been financed with a state sales tax, which was blasted immediately by the Republicans who held most of the statewide offices.

One early section of the NH 101 Expressway from NH 114 to I-93 in Manchester got approved for construction. About two-thirds of this segment--from the F.E. Everett Turnpike east to the southern I-93 "split"--was built as part of the original I-193 around Manchester, and the section of NH 101 built immediately to the west was designed as a link to I-93 and the Everett Turnpike. After two years of construction, the NH 101 / I-193 link opened in 1961. The original I-193 designation on this link (as well as on the Everett Turnpike link to the north) was changed to I-293 in 1977 upon completion of I-93 on the east side of Manchester.

PIECE BY PIECE: In 1959, the New Hampshire Department of Public Works and Highways (NHDPW&H) commissioned the firm of Fay, Spofford, and Thorndike for a $6 million study examining the feasibility of a four-lane expressway connecting I-93 in Manchester with I-95 (New Hampshire Turnpike) and the Seacoast. This was the first of several studies on the highway, but with the state focused on building its Interstate highway mileage, the construction of a four-lane NH 101 Expressway was seen as a lower priority.

Nevertheless, work began on two sections of controlled-access NH 101 as the study was being commissioned.

  • The first section of the Manchester-to-Hampton Beach expressway was the Exeter Bypass, a five-mile-long "super-2" bypass that stretched from EXIT 9 (NH 27) east to EXIT 12 (NH 111). This section opened in August 1960. For many years, Epping Road transitioned directly into the "super-2" section from the west. Just east of EXIT 11 (NH 108), a stub of the original bypass was reconfigured as a connector road to NH 88 (Holland Way).

  • The second section was a 2.6-mile-long segment from the northern I-93 "split" east to EXIT 2 (Hooksett Road) in Auburn that was built between 1959 and 1961. This section was four-lane original construction for most of the distance, though the expressway narrowed to a "super-2" just west of its terminus at EXIT 2.

Subsequent to the completion of the study, three additional sections of "super-2" bypass had opened as follows:

  • In 1963, the NHDPW extended the original "Exeter Bypass" section by 10.5 miles to Hampton Beach; the road had become known as the "Exeter-Hampton Expressway." The expressway addressed concerns about the lack of access to Hampton Beach as a new two-lane bridge was built over a wetlands area just west of town. The "super-2" segment still exists in its original configuration east of EXIT 13 (NH 27) in Hampton, and there are no current plans to upgrade this segment.

  • A 2.9-mile-long "super-2" segment from EXIT 2 in Auburn east to EXIT 3 (NH 43) in Candia was opened in 1965. This segment ended originally at a "T"-intersection with NH 43. In 1972, the four-lane freeway conversion was extended 1.5 miles to a point just east of EXIT 2 (the prior terminus of the four-lane freeway segment was west of EXIT 2).

  • A 6.9-mile-long "super 2" segment from EXIT 5 (NH 102 / NH 107) in Raymond east to EXIT 8 (North Road) in Brentwood opened in 1968. This section ended at "T"-intersections at each end. Moreover, the original alignment at EXIT 5 veered slightly north of current NH 101 alignment; the westbound exit ramp at EXIT 5 traces this old alignment.

All of the controlled-access "super-2" segments were designed to be expanded to four lanes by converting the existing roadway to an eastbound roadway and building a new westbound roadway.

The original routing of NH 101 exited the expressway at EXIT 11 (NH 108) in Stratham, while a separate designation--NH 51--continued east along the Exeter-Hampton Expressway to Hampton Beach. (At the time, the NH 101 designation was routed along NH 108 and what is now NH 33 northeast into Portsmouth.) On July 1, 1995, the NH 101 designation was applied to its current routing east to Hampton Beach in advance of the completion of the expressway.

These 1998 photos show the NH 101 Expressway under reconstruction at EXIT 9 (NH 27 / Epping Road) and EXIT 10 (NH 85 / Newfields Road). Both photos were taken in Exeter, the original terminus of the two-lane Exeter-Hampton Expressway. (Photos by Alexander Svirsky, granitehighways.com.)

ANOTHER ATTEMPT AT AN INTERSTATE HIGHWAY DESIGNATION: By the end of the 1960s, two substantial gaps remained from EXIT 3 in Candia east to EXIT 5 in Raymond (about eight miles), and from EXIT 8 in Brentwood east to EXIT 9 in Exeter (about three miles). Moreover, only the Interstate (I-193, later I-293) section in Manchester and a brief section of NH 101 east of I-93 in Manchester had four lanes; the rest were "super-2" segments.

State officials tried to enlist the help of the Federal government to finish the NH 101 Expressway, and even sought to garner an Interstate designation for a cross-state NH 101 Expressway that would have tied together proposed bypasses further west in Amherst and Keene. In 1970, the states of New York, Vermont, and New Hampshire collaborated on a 174-mile Interstate highway stretching from the Seacoast west to the Albany-Troy area of New York State; 103 miles of the proposed Interstate were to have been in New Hampshire. Part of what was to become the new I-92, the route was among a total of approximately 10,000 miles submitted under the guidelines of the 1968 Federal Highway Act, which called for a total of 1,500 new Interstate miles. However, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) ultimately rejected this proposal.

A TOLL ROAD PROPOSAL: Following the rejection of the proposed I-92 in 1971, some members of the New Hampshire State Legislature advocated a $74 million plan to build NH 101 as a four-lane turnpike between Manchester and the Seacoast. Construction was to have begun in 1972 on a 35-mile-long turnpike stretching from I-93 to NH 1A in Hampton Beach, and upon the scheduled completion deadline of 1976, it was to have cost 60 cents to travel the entire length of the road. In absence of tolls, it was estimated that project would be completed by late 1990s (which ended up being underestimated by only a couple of years).

However, officials from Rockingham and Hillsborough counties objected to the structure of the toll financing, stating that local residents would fund the road through tolls, but that the tolls would go elsewhere in the state. Furthermore, the routing of the NH 101 Expressway already was approved even before tolls were proposed, though the financing was not in place.

This 2006 photo shows the I-293 section of the westbound NH 101 Expressway approaching EXIT 2 (NH 3A) in Manchester. This section of expressway, which was rebuilt in the mid-2000s, uses the exit numbering convention found on I-293, not the Manchester-to-Hampton Beach section of NH 101. (Photo by Steve Anderson.)

FILLING THE REMAINING GAPS AND DUALIZING ROUTE 101: After a decade of inaction in the 1970s--save for a 1.5-mile-long conversion to four-lane freeway in the area of EXIT 2 in Auburn--progress on completing the NH 101 Expressway accelerated only slightly in the 1980s. The NHDPW&H began work in 1981 on filling in the eight-mile-long gap between EXIT 3 in Candia and EXIT 5 in Raymond with a four-lane freeway on new right-of-way south of the existing NH 101, which at the time was routed over NH 43 (Old Candia Road), and NH 27 (Raymond Road and Raymond Bypass).

At the same time, the NHDPW&H upgraded the existing "super-2" section from just east of EXIT 2 to EXIT 3; this section was to tie into the new four-lane freeway then under construction. Both projects were completed in 1986.

Completion of the three-mile-long gap between EXIT 8 and EXIT 9, as well as the conversion of the existing "super-2" sections of NH 101 to a four-lane freeway east of EXIT 5, remained mired in the environmental impact review process through much of the 1980s. The key obstacles were the potential removal of 106 acres of wetlands along the route, as well as the condemnation of a number of homes in the area of EXIT 9 in Exeter. During this time, large signs posted by the New Hampshire Department of Transportation (NHDOT) tallied the number of deaths along the "super-2" segment since 1985, drawing attention of officials to the need to upgrade this section of NH 101. Work on one bridge that was to carry North Street over the proposed NH 101 extension (at the current EXIT 8 in Brentwood) began in the late 1980s, but it soon was called the "bridge to nowhere" as it was still uncertain that the NH 101 Expressway would be completed.

Nevertheless, the state was behind construction of the route, and in 1989 the State Legislature called completion of NH 101 its highest transportation priority. The NHDOT reached a preliminary agreement with the Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for completing the expressway in 1991. Under this plan, 30 bridges were to be replaced (mostly concrete frame overpasses) or built on new right-of-way, two traffic lights were to be removed at NH 88 and NH 85, and bridges and roadways along an older section of the NH 101 Expressway in Bedford were to be rehabilitated. In addition, 130 acres of new wetlands were to be created to compensate for the 106 acres that were to be lost in the project. The proposal received final approval from the federal government in 1992.

Work on the $220 million "Epping-Hampton gap" and widening project began in 1993. The first phase of the project, which twinned the 1968 "super-2" section from EXIT 5 east to EXIT 8, was completed in November 1998. The next phase filled in the missing three-mile-long gap between EXIT 8 and EXIT 9, and twinned the existing "super-2" east to the Squamscott River in Exeter; this phase was completed in September 1999. On November 16, 2000, the final "super-2" segment between the Squamscott River and EXIT 13 (NH 27) in Hampton was twinned, giving motorists an uninterrupted stretch of four-lane freeway from Manchester to Hampton for the first time.

ROUTE 101 TODAY: According to the NHDOT, the NH 101 Expressway carries approximately 80,000 vehicles per day (AADT) along the I-293 segment in Manchester, while the average section between Manchester and Hampton carries about 45,000 vehicles per day.

To accommodate growing volume, the NHDOT spent $13 million in the mid-2000s to widen the I-293 / NH 101 "multiplex" to six lanes from the Merrimack River Bridge east to the southern I-93 "split." Around this time, the NHDOT advanced a $12 million plan to widen NH 101 to six lanes from the northern I-93 "split" east to EXIT 1 (NH 28 Bypass) in Manchester; this plan now is on hold. In 2009, the NHDOT repaved 9.5 miles of the NH 101 Expressway from Epping east to Exeter; the cost--at $1 million per mile--was financed in part by federal stimulus funds.

This 2006 photo shows the eastbound NH 101 Expressway approaching unmarked EXIT 14 (US 1) in Hampton. This easternmost section of NH 101 is the only remaining section that has not been converted into a four-lane, dual-carriageway freeway, and there are no current plans to do so. (Photo by Steve Anderson.)

THE NEW I-193: The NH 101 Expressway should be re-designated I-193 from NH 114 in Bedford east to US 1 in Hampton, and perhaps as far east as NH 1A in Hampton Beach. The new I-193 would mark the return of this designation to the Granite State and identify clearly an important route from central New Hampshire to the Seacoast. The I-293 designation that exists now on part of NH 101 in Manchester then would be shifted south along the entire length of the Everett Turnpike (now marked I-293 only north of NH 101).

As part of the conversion, the four-lane freeway conversion would be extended east of EXIT 13 (NH 27) in Hampton to Glade Path (about one-half mile west of NH 1A) in Hampton Beach, with the US 1 interchange (currently no exit number) in Hampton rebuilt as a reduced-footprint, single-point-diamond interchange (SPUI) and excess land converted into wetlands. There also would be a grade separation at Landing Road in Hampton, where there currently is a traffic signal.

Interchanges would be renumbered as follows (with old exit numbers in parentheses):

JUNCTION: NH 101 / NH 114 in Bedford; western terminus of I-193
EXIT 1 (no exit number): US 3 in Bedford
EXIT 2 (no exit number): I-293 / Everett Turnpike in Bedford
EXIT 3 (old EXIT 2): NH 3A in Manchester
EXIT 4 (old EXIT 1): NH 28 in Manchester
EXIT 5 (no exit number): I-93 southern "split" in Manchester
EXIT 6 (no exit number): I-93 northern "split" in Manchester
EXIT 7 (old EXIT 1): NH 28 Bypass in Manchester
EXIT 8 (old EXIT 2): Hooksett Road in Auburn
EXIT 9 (old EXIT 3): NH 43 in Candia
EXIT 10 (old EXIT 4): Old Manchester Road in Raymond
EXIT 11 (old EXIT 5): NH 102 / NH 107 in Raymond
EXIT 12 (old EXIT 6): Depot Road / Beede Hill Road in Epping
EXIT 13 (old EXIT 7): NH 125 in Epping
EXIT 14 (old EXIT 8): North Road in Brentwood
EXIT 15 (old EXIT 9): NH 27 in Exeter
EXIT 16 (old EXIT 10): NH 85 in Exeter
EXIT 17 (old EXIT 11): NH 108 in Stratham
EXIT 18 (old EXIT 12): NH 111 in Exeter
EXIT 19 (no exit number): I-95 in Hampton
EXIT 20 (old EXIT 13): NH 27 in Hampton
EXIT 21 (no exit number): US 1 in Hampton
JUNCTION: Glade Path in Hampton Beach; eastern terminus of I-193

It is possible this route once again may be considered part of a future I-92, and given its length (at 42 miles including I-93 overlap versus only 18 miles for I-97 in Maryland) and place in the national Interstate numbering grid, such a designation already may be justified in its present form. However, it is unlikely that any expressway would be extended west of Bedford, particularly given strident opposition in southwestern New Hampshire and southern Vermont.

SOURCES: "Cleveland Hits Shaw Road Proposal as Unrealistic," The Nashua Telegraph (10/10/1956); "Powell Proposes One-Cent Gas Tax Increase," The Nashua Telegraph (2/17/1959); "New Hampshire News," The Nashua Telegraph (2/19/1960); "New Hampshire News," The Nashua Telegraph (10/03/1960); "Skepticism and Rejection Greet East-West Highway Plan" by Jane St. Mary, The Nashua Telegraph (10/18/1971); "House Vote May Have Killed Manchester-Hampton Toll Road" by Jane F. Taylor, The Nashua Telegraph (3/01/1972); "Linking Interstates, Route 101 Top Priority," The Nashua Telegraph (3/16/1989); "Critics Say Politics Are Behind Route 101 Headlight Campaign," The Nashua Telegraph (5/08/1989); "Plan Approved for Expansion of NH Highway," The Boston Globe (9/20/1991); "Route 101 Expansion Is Approved," Lewiston Sun-Journal (6/26/1992); "92 Projects Affect Summer Traffic; About Half Will Result in Delays" by Tammy Ross, The Boston Globe (6/25/1995); "Expanded Route 101 Opens" by Michelle Firmbach, The Exeter News-Letter (11/17/2000); "State To Us Stimulus Money for Route 101 Paving" by Adam Leech, The Portsmouth Herald (2/24/2009); HistoricAerials.com; E.D. Bryant; Scott Oglesby; Alexander Svirsky.

  • NH 101 and NH 51 shields by Barry L. Camp.
  • I-92, I-193, and I-293 shields by Ralph Herman.
  • Lightposts by Millerbernd Manufacturing Company.

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