By Mac Cerullo
---- — NEWBURYPORT – Certain stretches of Interstate 95 will be affected by lane closures over the next month as preliminary work on the $292 million Whittier Bridge reconstruction project begins.
The work will require day and night lane closures on the northbound and southbound sides of the highway, both on the bridge itself and along the road on each side of the river.
The Massachusetts Department of Transportation said the lane closures would occur during non-peak travel times, and during the day, all closures would be limited to a single lane.
The closures come as workers gear up for the start of major construction later this summer, which is expected to last until the bridge’s completion in 2016.
“Within the first two weeks of August is when people should expect to see heavy construction,” MassDOT spokesman Mike Verseckes said yesterday.
At that point, Verseckes said the majority of the construction would be done in the water, with the remaining work being concentrated on the north side of the project area on the Amesbury side of the river.
“We don’t expect any major traffic impacts at this time,” Verseckes said. “The majority of the work will be in the water so that won’t have any road impact.”
The John Greenleaf Whittier Bridge carries I-95 over the Merrimack River and has served as a key link in the state’s highway transportation network for nearly 60 years. The bridge was built in 1951, but is now structurally deficient and is nearing the end of its economic life.
Over the next three years, state contractors will build a new bridge adjacent to the original one, and then tear the old bridge down and build another new bridge in its place. When completed, each bridge will carry four lanes of traffic plus breakdown lanes, with one carrying the northbound lanes and the other carrying the southbound lanes. The bridge will also include a pedestrian traffic lane, which will allow runners, bikers and joggers to cross the river, while linking together the various bike trails in Amesbury, Newburyport and Salisbury.
The way the project was designed, all highway traffic will be able to flow normally during the construction of the first bridge, and then will be diverted to the first new bridge once the original is torn down. This will allow for minimal traffic disruptions and avoid painful detours through the back roads of Newburyport and Amesbury.
“We’re mindful of the impacts that any serious lane restrictions would have,” Verseckes said. “We want to do our best to keep traffic on the Whittier Bridge or I-95 so it’s not spilling out onto local roads.”
The overall scope of the project encompasses the entire stretch of I-95 from exit 57 to exit 60 and will include the rehabilitation of other bridges, the widening of the highway and the improvement of deceleration lanes along that stretch.
This week, contractors will be installing erosion controls throughout the project area, laying out and cutting pavement for the traffic barrier line on the highway at the northern end of the project area, preparing a staging area on Spring Lane and mobilizing equipment for the construction of the bridge’s northern pier on the Amesbury side of the river.
Next week, workers will begin removing trees and shrubs in the right-of-way, continue saw cutting for the traffic barrier and then begin installing the northern pier’s cofferdams. Finally, the week of July 22, workers will start installing temporary traffic barriers on the highway at the northern end of the project area.
Once major construction begins later this summer, Verseckes said the project should be able to proceed with minimal traffic disruptions, but added that there will undoubtedly be future lane closures throughout the project’s duration when the situation demands it.