By Brian Messenger
---- — METHUEN — The long-awaited Interstate 93 rotary redesign is behind schedule and may cost millions of dollars more than previous estimates.
Initially slated to begin this fall, construction at the busy rotary connecting I-93 with routes 110 and 113 is now not expected to start until April 2014. The estimated cost of the project has also increased to $77.8 million.
The initial cost estimate for the project was $70 million. The money will come from state and federal taxpayers.
Located in West Methuen, the rotary is considered one of the most dangerous intersections in the region and will be replaced with a “partial cloverleaf” interchange, along with a number of new traffic signals and access ramps.
The traffic-clogged rotary is located at Exit 46 on I-93 and is used by drivers heading to Methuen, Lawrence, Dracut and Lowell — or accessing I-93 headed to New Hampshire or Boston. Officials have said the redesign will improve safety and relieve traffic congestion.
The project was put out to bid Aug. 17. A contractor will be selected around mid-November, according to Massachusetts Department of Transportation (DOT) spokesman Mike Verseckes.
Construction won’t begin until after the winter. Last January, a DOT spokeswoman estimated that the project would be out to bid in late spring 2013 and that construction would be underway this fall.
Yesterday, Verseckes said the project schedule was delayed when designers decided to add “metalized steel beams” under the I-93 bridge to help reinforce the structure and protect it from corrosion.
“There were some last-minute additions,” said Verseckes. “It’s not the kind of thing we want rushed out the door.”
Once construction starts, the rotary redesign is expected to take three years to complete.
Verseckes said the new $77.8 million price estimate for the project includes a base project cost of $63.2 million. Various contingency budgets totalling $9.7 million represent “a safe offset” that ultimately may not be spent, he said.
Police details and traffic control measures will cost $800,000. Relocating Columbia Gas, Verizon, Comcast and National Grid utilities will cost $2.8 million. Verseckes said the redesign will also include an “incentive/disincentive clause” that will give the contractor up to $3.15 million more if the project is finished ahead of schedule. The contractor will be paid less money if the project is completed behind schedule, he said.
“The cost has increased from the original estimate based on the project development process and refining all the elements,” said Verseckes yesterday.
Federal taxes will pay for 80 percent of the bill, with state taxpayers covering the remaining expense.
The initial cost of the project was estimated at $70 million. But in January, Merrimack Valley Planning Commission (MVPC) Executive Director Dennis DiZoglio said the cost had dropped to $60 million as design work progressed.
Verseckes said the rotary has a crash rate 7.2 times greater than the statewide average. All approaches to the rotary often operate at a “failing” level of service during peak morning and afternoon rush hours, he said.
A need for the project was first mentioned in an I-93 corridor study conducted by the MVPC in 2001. From 2007 to 2009, 650 accidents were recorded in or near the rotary — or more than double the amount of crashes in any other location in the area. Verseckes said the state began considering design alternatives for the rotary in 2008.
The new interchange design will include a new northbound off-ramp from I-93 to Routes 110 and 113 west. The southbound off-ramp from I-93 will be realigned, and a new on-ramp to I-93 South will be built from Route 110 and 113 west.
Wide road shoulders will be added to Routes 110 and 113 to accommodate bicycle traffic and improvements will be made at seven nearby intersections. Noise barriers will be installed along Noyes Street, Smith Avenue and Cherry Hill Circle.
The project will force the state to acquire four homes by eminent domain. The project is also expected to spark development along the Route 110 corridor. More information on the redesign is available at methuenrotary.mhd.state.ma.us.