PORTSMOUTH — It’s only been a little more than three weeks, but residents of the Frank Jones neighborhood say the closure of the exit ramp from the Spaulding Turnpike onto Echo Avenue has already made a big difference in their lives.
Neighborhood leader Chuck McMahon said since the city closed the exit ramp “there’s definitely been some peace and quiet.”
“You feel like you can walk a little bit easier knowing that traffic coming off the turnpike at a high rate of speed, especially on Echo Avenue, isn’t coming into our neighborhood,” McMahon said this week.
“It’s been great,” he added.
The City Council voted in May to close the exit ramp from the Spaulding Turnpike as part of a six-month pilot program. The vote came in response to several years of efforts by neighborhood residents to get city officials to address the amount of traffic and speeding up Echo Avenue and surrounding streets in the neighborhood.
McMahon, whose daughter recently turned 1, said the exit ramp closure has been in effect for only a month, but already “it seems as if there’s far less traffic coming into our neighborhood."
He feels much safer when he walks through the neighborhood with his daughter now that the exit ramp is barricaded off from the turnpike.
“We take walks every day,” said McMahon, who lives on Woodlawn Avenue, which intersects with Echo Avenue. “It’s nice to be able to walk along without worrying.”
The city closed the exit ramp July 20, during a busy time of year for the tourist-driven city of Portsmouth.
“This is a crucial time of year when a lot of traffic comes into Portsmouth for a lot of different reasons,” McMahon said.
He’s noticed the difference the exit closure has made on his neighbors too. “I will say you can sense a little bit more calm, especially with the families walking through,” McMahon said.
Before the closure of the exit ramp, drivers could use the narrow neighborhood roads as a shortcut by driving up Echo Avenue after taking a sharp right-hand turn off the turnpike, and then turn onto Woodbury Avenue. Now if they turn onto Brady Avenue off the Spaulding they have to keep following it until they get to Woodbury Avenue, but don’t drive through any neighborhoods.
“It is no more than a 2-minute inconvenience,” McMahon said.
Like many people in the neighborhood, McMahon credits Eric Eby, the city’s parking and transportation engineer, for his work helping to find a solution for the neighborhood.
McMahon attended the recent National Night Out celebration in the neighborhood and left “blown away to see how many new kids there are in the neighborhood.”
“It was great to see them playing and all of them had their bikes,” McMahon said. “I hope they feel a little bit more at ease now.”
Echo Avenue resident Dave Palumbo has lived in the neighborhood since 1971.
“I’ve seen a lot of things,” he said this week. “I’ve seen on two instances cars come right off the turnpike and go flying into my garden. That was scary.”
But since the city closed the exit ramp, “traffic has been very good,” he said. “It’s made a big, big difference."
Closing the exit ramp has dramatically reduced the numbers of cars and trucks – directed by traffic Apps – that drive up the sidewalk-less Echo Avenue, he said.
“At one of the meetings we had they said we used to get 330 to 340 cars each day. That’s down to maybe 50 or 60 now,” Palumbo said.
He does not know if city officials will keep the exit blocked off at the end of the six-month pilot program, but he hopes they do because of how much safer he believes the neighborhood is now.
“We have a lot of families and a lot of children and a lot of people walking their dogs,” Palumbo said. “Plus, we have the handicapped people from Betty’s Dream.”
Betty’s Dream is a housing facility for disabled young adults in the neighborhood.
Palumbo has seen more kids riding “their skateboards along the street” since the exit closure.
“It’s been a big change. We don’t have the big 18-wheelers coming up the street anymore,” he said. “I hope it stays that way.”
Eby could not be reached for comment Friday on what the city will base its decision on.