WINDHAM — Ultimately, the Interstate 93 widening and Route 111 projects are about economic development — transporting goods, services and people.
That's what Department of Transportation Commissioner George Campbell told local officials and businesspeople yesterday in a review and tour of the road construction projects.
The long view of the 20-mile, I-93 widening project is that the Salem to Windham section is moving ahead full bore, Campbell said.
After the state files a supplemental study that recalculates the widening project's environmental impact, it hopes the court will approve the widening north of Windham to Manchester, the commissioner said.
Campbell expects a decision by winter. Another matter that needs reconsideration is the widening plan's funding, he said.
The entire project is estimated to cost $780 million, but about $300 million of that is not included under the current funding scenario, he said.
In terms of construction, the state already has approval to replace dangerous interchanges, deficient bridges, and to construct park-and-ride lots along the corridor.
Exit 3 in Windham, now a cloverleaf-design interchange, will be converted to a safer, diamond design, I-93 corridor supervisor Jay Levine said.
Exit 3 work will include bridge replacements. By spring, travelers should notice new construction of I-93 northbound bridges, which, temporarily, will carry southbound traffic. One of the bridges will cross Range Road and the other Route 111 by the site of the former Dunkin' Donuts.
Two park-and-rides, one at Exit 2 in Salem, the other at Exit 4 in Londonderry, are slated to open next month.
In the short-term, travelers who use Route 111 will be happy to know the final leg of the Route 111 bypass will open to four lanes, two in each direction, within three weeks, said project engineer Conrad Skov.
That word came as welcome news to Sen. Bob Letourneau, R-Derry, who said he gets regular calls from constituents who wonder when the Route 111 traffic backups will go away.
The 3.5-mile bypass work started in 2003 and extends from the Zachary's Crossing intersection in Salem to the I-93 northbound on-ramp in Windham.
In five to six years, a widened Route 111 will extend all the way to the Wall Street intersection near Shaw's supermarket, he said.
Starting in 2013, Route 111 is scheduled to shift a few hundred feet to the north.
The timeline and components of the Exit 3 and Route 111 work are especially important because of their impact on local economic development, said Letourneau and Selectman Bruce Breton, who organized yesterday's gathering.
The state owns 30 to 40 acres of prime real estate off Route 111A near the golf course, as well as land in the Wall Street area. This acreage is zoned for professional buildings, businesses and technology purposes.
Transportation infrastructure is critical to economic health, Campbell said.
"Yes, it is about engineering and construction, but its guts is economic development," Campbell said.