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Merrimack Valley

June 13, 2014

Officials: Rotary results will be worth disruption

METHUEN — Construction on the massive four-year rotary project at Routes 110 and 113 will start in the next week or two and transportation and engineering officials told more than 100 residents last night that they believe construction will not worsen existing traffic.

Officials from the state Department of Transportation, from Jacobs Engineering Group, which designed the project, and construction firm E.T.&L. Corp. said the first phase will begin this month, though that phase will be mostly prep work.

The most potential for disruption will be on Interstate 93, as the median is removed and paved to allow shifts in traffic lanes while bridge work is done.

For that to happen, use of the breakdown lane during rush hour around that exit will end. Southbound traffic on Interstate 93 will not be able to use the breakdown lane in the morning until just south of exit 46. In the afternoon, northbound traffic will be prohibited from using the breakdown lane starting at exit 46.

“Having four lanes would add significant cost and time to the project,” said Ryan McNeill, a MassDOT official who has been meeting and working with residents about this project for years.

Interstate 93 is three lanes each way there, but the state has received federal permission annually to open the breakdown lane to travel at certain hours.

McNeill and Darren Conboy, of Jacobs Engineering, said traffic on the Interstate and on Routes 110 and 113, all of which is currently managed by a large rotary under the Interstate, will continue to function as it is now for several years.

They projected the rotary will be gone and a new straight road will be in place in about two years.

The project is broken into four stages, the first of which will start this month and the last of which will wrap up in June 2018.

Stage 1, June 2014 to April 2015, clearing, starting preliminary bridge work, installing sound barriers and re-configuring intersection of Lowell and Haverhill streets;

Stage 2, January 2015 to July 2016, installing new bridge in sections on Interstate 93, finishing and opening certain ramps, re-configuring intersection of Lowell Street and Riverside Drive, and re-configuring the intersection of Lowell and North Lowell streets;

Stage 3, July 2016 to August 2017, eliminating the rotary and completing a straight stretch of road carrying Routes 110 and 113, finishing on and off ramps, demolishing two existing bridges on Interstate 93;

Stage 4, August 2017 to June 2018, finishing and paving roads, striping.

Officials said construction will mostly occur between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m., though work on heavily traveled roads will be restricted to after 9 a.m. and before 3 p.m.

Some night work will occur, though mostly be confined to Interstate 93, they said.

State Rep. Linda Dean Campbell, D-Methuen, said planning for the project has stretched back a decade. “I was on the City Council when this started, so this is very near and dear to my heart,” she said. “Public input had a significant impact on the project.”

Over dozens of meetings in five years, planners have responded to residents’ concerns, she said. Specifically, sound barriers were added after residents demanded them, and some road configurations were altered.

Residents, who peppered the transportation and engineering officials with questions for about an hour and a half at a meeting at the Senior Center, seemed skeptical of some claims, like how traffic would behave during construction and that eliminating travel in the breakdown lanes on Interstate 93 would not affect commuting during rush hour.

Several people who live on and near Heather Drive, which is a private way across from Lowell Street east of the rotary, were concerned that people will cut through their street to get to Riverside Drive to avoid construction.

Those four years are “going to be miserable,” said Cecile Cote, who lives on Heather Drive.

But she and some of her neighbors said that once the project is completed, the whole area will be improved.

“When it’s all done, it’ll be great,” said Grace Fortuna, who lives on Brandywine Lane, off Heather Drive.

Mayor Stephen Zanni said clearing up congestion and improving safety there will attract business. “This is going to be a big boom for our area and businesses moving in,” he said.

MassDOT estimates the project will cost $66.4 million, paid with state and federal money.

The cost estimate has fluctuated over the years, nearing $80 million at one point.

Stow construction firm E.T.&L. Corp. won the construction contract with a bid of $56.45 million, which transportation officials said significantly lowered the overall price tag.

Last night, officials said E.T&L. has incentives and disincentives built into its contract, including a $25,000 per day bonus for finishing early or penalty for finishing late.

Go to methuenrotary.mhd.state.ma.us, a website run by MassDOT, for more information on the project.

Follow Douglas Moser on Twitter @EagleEyeMoser.

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