The Battle for Franconia Notch

October 24, 2011

Where Interstate 93 climbs into Franconia Notch, the speed limit dips to 45 and the roadway narrows to a single lane. These may seem like obvious concessions to the road’s dramatic setting—looming cliffs and sprawling forests, the Old Man of the Mountain and Flume Gorge—yet the debate over the highway’s design spanned three decades.

In 1959, New Hampshire’s legislature approved a plan to expand the existing road through the notch into a four-lane interstate highway. An opposition quickly formed, with AMC, the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, and others urging additional study and consideration of alternate routes. In a letter to members, AMC Executive Director C. Francis Belcher wrote, “If there is any time when you should express your opinion on this project, THAT TIME IS NOW!”

The debate raged through the 1960s while construction of I-93 inched toward the notch from the south. By 1970 AMC had endorsed a compromise. The “cut and cover” plan would route the highway through long tunnels, maintaining some of the notch’s viewsheds. But later that year U.S. Secretary of Transportation John Volpe postponed construction indefinitely and a new cycle of negotiations began.

“I congratulate and commend you and the other AMC’ers…for your behind-the-scenes and up-front part in encouraging at least a delay,” Terry Frost, the New Hampshire Chapter chair, wrote to Belcher. “The politicians and the rest of the world are beginning to listen to the conservationists.”

Franconia Notch Parkway, in the form that we know today, was finally completed in 1988. The eventual compromise—a narrow, speed-controlled 8-mile stretch—required Congress to pass a special amendment to the standards applied across the rest of the U.S. interstate system.

Images seen here appear courtesy of the AMC Library and Archives. Duplicates can be ordered for a fee. Funds support efforts to preserve the club’s historical collections. Contact Library and Archives at 617-391-6629, visit the website, or send an e-mail for details.

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