Change is coming

Published 10:04 pm Thursday, June 10, 2010

Motorists in the downtown area will see some changes on Constance Road soon designed to improve access to the new Visitor Center.

The old courthouse at the corner of Main Street and Constance Road will reopen as the new Visitor Center soon, and visitors need better access to the site than the current setup, Public Works director Eric Nielsen in a City Council work session last week. Before changes are made, drivers hoping to access the site must either be headed north on Main Street or east on Constance Road. Left turns from the opposite lanes are not possible at either entrance because of medians, forcing drivers approaching from the east or north to go out of their way and make a U-turn.

“The challenge that we have here are vehicles that are coming from Portsmouth Boulevard and wanting to take a left, you can’t take a left,” Nielsen said, noting drivers approaching from the east would turn left at Main Street and likely turn around at the train station to approach from the north.

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The solution — which will begin construction in early July — is to install a median break on Constance Road across from a current entrance to the Hilton Garden Inn. The end result still will allow left turns into the hotel at the easternmost entrance, and also will allow left turns into the Constance Road entrance to the Visitor Center and adjacent Riddick’s Folly parking lot.

The city’s traffic engineers have been using modeling and simulation techniques to investigate the effect the change will have on the nearby intersection, one of the city’s busiest.

“We’re going to model this and then proceed to do the appropriate improvements,” Nielsen said.

Construction of the road improvements should be completed by August.

The building is being repurposed to become the Visitor Center and offices of the Tourism Department. The original stairs in the front of the building will be torn out to make way for accessible restrooms. The visitor’s lounge, gift shop and reception desk will take up the middle portion of the first floor, and the stairs and elevator will be located at the back. A mezzanine floor is being constructed on the back of the building to house mechanical and electrical equipment.

On the second floor, offices for the Tourism Department will take up a majority of the space, along with a conference room on the wharf side of the building.