By Dave Rogers
---- — NEWBURYPORT — Massachusetts Department of Transportation officials announced yesterday they have accepted a nearly $300 million contract to replace the John Greenleaf Whittier Memorial Bridge and rehabilitate eight additional bridges to accommodate the widening of portions of Interstate 95.
The Whittier Bridge/I-95 Improvement Project was awarded to the joint venture of Walsh/McCourt in the amount of $292,155,280.
The project — considered one of the largest highway jobs in the state — will involve demolishing the current 58-year-old, six-lane span connecting Amesbury and Newburyport over the Merrimack River and replacing it with an eight-lane bridge with four lanes on each side.
It also includes the replacement or reconstruction of four adjacent bridges along I-95 in Newburyport and Amesbury and widening I-95 between exit 57 in Newburyport and exit 60 in Salisbury.
In addition, the project calls for shared use paths and pedestrian overlooks along the Merrimack River. It will mark the first time in the state’s history that a bike/pedestrian path is installed on an interstate bridge.
Construction is expected to begin this spring and will continue well into 2016, state officials have said.
The northbound side of the bridge is scheduled to be completed first and will be 16 feet wider than the southbound side. The existing bridge will be demolished in segments from the center span toward both shorelines.
Since the project was first unveiled, it has unleashed a torrent of concern from nearby residents. Much of the displeasure has centered around what many abutters consider a less-than-optimal solution to mitigate noise pollution they fear will increase with more cars crossing the bridge. Others are worried that construction will bring the highway closer to their homes, reducing property values.
The MassDOT Board of Directors also approved a $255,489,000 contract to rehabilitate the Longfellow Bridge, which carries Route 3 over the Charles River, between Boston and Cambridge.
“These two projects are true capstones of the Accelerated Bridge Program,” MassDOT Secretary and CEO Richard A. Davey said in a release. “These projects accommodate our multi-modal society with the inclusion of bicycle and pedestrian facilities. Furthermore, they represent the kind of investments that have not only rebuilt our bridges for the next generation, but have also created thousands of jobs and economic opportunity.”
The Whittier Bridge/I-95 Improvement Project is one of five Accelerated Bridge Program projects known as “mega projects” by MassDOT. All but one, the Fall River Interchange Improvement Project at I-195, Route 79 and Route 138, have been awarded to contractors. Two of them, the Burns Bridge in Worcester/Shrewsbury and the Fore River Bridge linking Quincy and Weymouth, are under construction.
Since 2008, the number of structurally deficient bridges has dropped from 543 to 436, a decline of 19.7 percent. As of Jan. 1, the ABP Program has completed 121 bridge projects, with another 48 bridge projects currently under construction and an additional 20 bridge projects scheduled to start within the next year. Over the course of the eight-year, $3 billion program, well over 200 bridges are planned to be replaced or repaired, according to MassDOT.