EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

August 29, 2013

Editorial: Let’s get moving on rotary reconstruction

The Eagle-Tribune

---- — State transportation officials don’t seem to have any good explanation for the delay in reconstructing one of the region’s most dangerous intersections. Let’s hope the delay doesn’t cost drivers anything more than lost commuting time.

Work on rebuilding the Interstate 93 rotary in West Methuen was originally slated to begin this fall. But the project has fallen behind schedule and is now over-budget. The state Department of Transportation just sent out requests for bids on Aug. 17, so there is no chance of work beginning this year. The contractor will not be selected until mid-November. Construction is now scheduled to start in April 2014 and will take three years to complete.

The cost estimate for the project has increased from $70 million to $77.8 million.

DOT spokesman Mike Verseckes told reporter Brian Messenger that the project schedule was delayed when designers decided to add “metallized 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.”

A change in one detail shouldn’t be enough to delay an entire project of this scope.

And the work is needed. According the DOT, the rotary has an accident rate that is 7.2 times greater than the state average. From 2007 to 2009, the area around the rotary saw 650 accidents, more than double the number of crashes at any other location in the area. The approaches to the rotary often operate at a “failing” level of service during peak morning and afternoon rush hours.

Studies first began to cite the need to rebuild the intersection in 2001. The state began considering redesigns in 2008.

The state plans to replace the rotary that links I-93 with Routes 110 and 113 with a partial cloverleaf design that will include new traffic signals and access ramps. The redesigned intersection should improve safety and traffic flow. State and federal funds will pay for the project with federal taxpayers footing 80 percent of the bill.

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.

It has been a dozen years since the need to rebuild this intersection was first identified and five years since the state began looking at designs. Once construction begins, it will drag on for three years more.

It’s time to get this project moving. I-93 is one of the major commuter routes in eastern Massachusetts and the Methuen intersection is one of the primary access points to it. This dangerous and congested intersection is one that not only inconveniences drivers but also puts their safety at risk.