Motorists traveling Interstate 93 between the Massachusetts border and Exit 2 in Salem need to sit up and pay attention.
Orange road signs and electronic billboards warn of exit-only lanes. The highway suddenly narrows from four lanes to two. And there’s the additional distraction of off-highway dump trucks, bulldozers and construction workers busy in the median.
But there’s a serious method to the maze-like changes, orange barrels and blue-lights-flashing cruisers that dominate the stretch.
Just ask Pete Stamnas, project manager for the behemoth, $800 million I-93 widening project.
Stamnas understands the project — and all its many moving pieces — like no one else.
“It takes time,” he said of the work. “There’s a lot of traffic and very limited room. We’re trying not to do too much at one time.”
That translates into lanes shifting from their ultimate positions, night work and temporary configurations that may leave drivers wondering.
The project involves 19.8 miles from Salem to the I-93/I-293 interchange in Manchester. The ultimate goal is to widen the congested highway from two lanes to four in both directions. As is stands, with funding and environmental questions outstanding,the road is being widened to four lanes each way, but only three lanes are being built for immediate travel.
“We are constructing the footprint for four, paving and operating three lanes,” Stamnas said. “Roadway fills will be placed to accommodate four lanes and bridges built to accommodate four. We just won’t be using all four lanes.”
The project includes the replacement of 20 bridges and significant work on 23 more.
The impetus for the project is simple: When the highway was built about 50 years ago, it was equipped to handle 60,000 vehicles a day. By 1997, there were more than 100,000 cars a day traveling I-93 in Salem. Projections estimate as many as 140,000 vehicles a day in Salem by 2020.