5/23/2013 - Watch for brake lights; there’s plenty of road work going on this spring and summer in New Hampshire.
The state Department of Transportation is managing 78 active projects totaling nearly $600 million. Much of that work is taking place on the state’s highways.
“In general we try to minimize the traffic impact, but we can’t always eliminate it,” said William Boynton, spokesman for the state Department of Transportation.
With larger, longer-term projects, traffic management is a big part of the equation. For example, even though there is major work related to the Interstate 93 widening project, traffic isn’t necessarily impacted each day. Project managers must come up with reasonable traffic management solutions for long-term projects. Work like paving and blasting is likely to cause traffic delays and lane closures, Boynton said.
“Our construction season, unlike Florida, is April to November, and sometimes it corresponds with the tourism season and the growing traffic volumes of summer,” Boynton said. “It can be a conflict at times. At the same time we appreciate people’s patience as we try to improve the system.”
While it is more expensive, crews have been doing more and more night work to address traffic management issues.
“To close a lane on 93 during the day, you risk immediate, significant backups,” Boynton said. “You used to be able to do work from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and close one lane. Suddenly, those windows aren’t there anymore.”
Crews can’t do night work in every situation, due to safety concerns and location — some projects occur in residential areas, for example, Boynton said.
In the area of Exit 3 on I-93 in Windham, crews have used state police rolling roadblocks whenever blasting is taking place.
“In that case, obviously, you have to stop traffic,” Boynton said, adding it’s usually for a short time.
Boynton noted that traffic backups often occur in the cases of emergency repairs or even for simple median maintenance work, such as mowing or roadway stripe painting. The state has 4,600 miles of state-maintained roads to stripe.
The state is paving 250 to 300 miles this summer, which is less than ideal. Officials prefer to pave closer to 500 miles each year, which would allow crews to repave the entire system every 10 years. Boynton said funding issues have impacted paving production in recent years.
One place drivers won’t be slowing down is the Hooksett tolls. Motorists will be getting through the Hooksett tolls much more quickly with the completion of the open road tolling project. The $23 million project, scheduled to open Thursday, May 23, will allow E-ZPass customers to travel at highway speeds through tolls.
Boynton said the open road tolling on Interstate 95 in Hampton has been particularly successful.
“It’s quick, safe and convenient,” Boynton said.
Boynton said the Hooksett project will look about the same as Hampton: two open road tolling lanes in each direction, with six conventional booths open for E-ZPass and cash customers, though the hope is that E-ZPass customers would use the open road tolling lanes. Nearly 70 percent of motorists use E-ZPass.
“We’ve been pleased with the result in Hampton,” Boynton said. “It’s greatly reduced the somewhat legendary backups of the past. We really don’t have that anymore.”
DOT officials said the toll plaza processed more than 25 million vehicles each year, including 80,000 vehicles per day during summer weekends.
Widening and rebuilding
The Interstate 93 rebuilding project remains the project with the largest scope. The $800 million project trudges along, despite still being $250 million short in funding.
The project entails widening the highway from two to three lanes in each direction from the New Hampshire border to Manchester. In many cases, the project also entails rebuilding sections of the highway. In that stretch of highway alone, the state is spending $100 million on addressing 19 red-listed bridges. The last red-listed bridge to be addressed on that stretch is in Londonderry.
The 93 project is focused now in the vicinity of Exit 3 in Windham, where there is ongoing blasting work. Work also continues at Exit 5 in Londonderry, Boynton said.
“We’ve made a lot of progress, but there is still a lot of work going on,” Boynton said.
Getting to and from Maine
Motorists traveling back and forth to Maine might have had a tough time in recent months. There are three bridge crossings spanning the Piscataqua River from Portsmouth to Kittery. The state is getting ready to open the new Memorial Bridge, which carries Route 1 over the river. Boynton said in his 18 years on the job, he couldn’t remember a more scrutinized project than the $84 million Memorial Bridge project.
“It connects two states, it has historical significance with the other bridge, and people have emotional and personal contacts with the other bridge,” Boynton said.
The state recently reopened the Long Bridge, which carried the Route 1 Bypass over the river. That bridge had been closed after a massive ship was freed from the docks and collided with the bridge.
“There had been a little strain for folks traveling in that area,” Boynton said, since two of the three river crossings were shut down.