By John Toole
---- — Big traffic changes are coming to the Interstate 93 widening as crews push toward completing the 2013 construction season.
Drivers can expect new and completely different looks in the weeks after Labor Day, especially around Exit 2 in Salem and possibly through the Exit 5 area in Londonderry.
A significant change will be at the Exit 2 interchange, which will shift from the existing cloverleaf to a diamond shape.
For drivers, the change represents a whole different way of moving through Exit 2 into Salem and toward Pelham.
“This will be one of the bigger challenges this year,” said Jay Levine, New Hampshire Department of Transportation I-93 coordinating supervisor. “They are going to have to change their driving habits.”
The reconstruction will have drivers making movements opposite from what they do now.
Levine said DOT will provide plenty of signs and instructions on electronic message boards to help drivers adjust.
“After Labor Day,” is the likely time frame, he said. “Most likely in September.”
Southbound traffic also is expected to shift to a temporary bridge at Exit 2 after Labor Day.
“There will be plenty of advance notice,” Levine said.
Windham-based George R. Cairns & Sons has been working on the $43.6 million Exit 2 project, with work slated to continue until 2015.
But all the action isn’t at Exit 2, even if that promises a challenge.
Northbound traffic moving through Exit 5 in Londonderry could see a shift before the construction season is over.
Levine said the contractor responsible for work at Exit 5 isn’t required to complete the traffic shift this season, but is making great progress and pushing to do so.
“I think they are trying to make every effort,” Levine said. “Their goal is this year.”
DOT’s Matt Lampron, contract administrator working at Exit 5, said while Candia-based Severino Trucking Inc. is aiming to shift the northbound traffic this fall, that’s not set.
Lampron said factors, including weather, will determine whether the shift comes this construction season or next.
The $37.3 million Exit 5 interchange project also has involved Route 28 improvements.
“They are still working on getting that finished,” Lampron said. “There will be some small traffic switches for a couple of more months.”
Middlesex Corp. of Littleton, Mass., is close to wrapping the $32.7 million widening and bridge project around Exit 1 in Salem.
“That will be completed within a month,” Levine said.
As Exit 1 work is completed, Levine said that should get rid of one of the biggest traffic bottlenecks for drivers.
He is optimistic that commuters will see an improvement from the Exit 1 and Exit 2 changes.
“Hopefully, we are past the worst of the traffic issues south of Exit 3,” Levine said.
R.S. Audley Inc. of Bow has a $35.1 million southbound widening project at Exit 3 in Windham that also involves work around the Route 111 interchange.
Levine said drivers won’t see any significant changes this fall. Blasting continues at Exit 3, he said.
DOT soon will advertise the contract for relocating Route 111A in Windham. Levine expects that to happen in September or October.
Levine and New Hampshire State Police Troop B commander Chris Wagner, whose officers patrol I-93, are pleased with how drivers have handled construction this year.
“We’ve fared very well so far,” Wagner said. “There haven’t been any major issues we can attribute to construction.”
There were two traffic fatalities in June and July, one in Salem, the other in Windham, but they were unrelated to construction and could have happened anywhere, he said.
When a series of nuisance traffic accidents in the spring slowed morning commutes, prompting complaints from travelers, state police responded with a bigger presence along the I-93 corridor.
“The public’s perception was they had had enough,” Wagner said. “We listened to that.”
The problems abated.
“Those issues seem to have subsided through the summer period,” Wagner said.
Drivers are doing their best to cope, though it’s not always easy.
Kevin Gordon and Lori Gallant both commute daily from Derry to Andover.
Their biggest complaint is the traffic bottleneck at Exit 1 as they travel home from Massachusetts.
Gallant said traffic slowed to 30 mph as she drove into Salem yesterday afternoon.
“It’s worse on Friday with the tourism traffic,” Gallant said.
Gallant has driven through the construction zone for five years.
“Is it ever going to end?” she asks.
Gordon is eager to see the work completed around Exit 1.
“That should help quite a bit,” he said.
He said he is generally pleased with the traffic management.
“Overall, I have no big complaints about how the process is going,” Gordon said. “They’re doing a great job.”
While it’s been a safe construction season for commuters along I-93, Wagner still asks drivers to be cautious.
“Don’t be complacent,” he said. “It is still a very dangerous area to drive through.”
Wagner asks drivers to slow down, obey speed limits and don’t get distracted.
Levine echoes that concern about drivers getting distracted in the construction zone.
He said the builders see too many drivers texting and talking on phones.
“That is a large problem for the construction people” Levine said.
He also cautions drivers about tailgating, another potential problem in the construction zone.
Drivers could do better, in Gordon’s view.
“When you are going to work at 7 or 7:30 in the morning, people are not driving cautiously,” he said.
That’s why he’s on the road most days about 6 a.m.
“I keep my distance. Whatever happens, happens,” Gallant said. “I see a lot of aggressive driving.”
She can’t say for sure she’s seen people texting.
“I do see a lot of cell phones in hands,” Gallant said.
Work on the $800 million I-93 widening is expected to continue into 2020 or beyond.
For more information about the project, including diagrams, contract descriptions and costs, visit rebuildingi93.com.