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Traffic issues expected with Bedford-Manchester bridge work

New Hampshire Union Leader
Union Leader Correspondent

October 07. 2017 12:43AM
A view from underneath the I-293/NH 101 bridges connecting Manchester and Bedford. During restoration work on the bridges next year, traffic on each bridge will be reduced from three lanes to two, which has Bedford and Manchester officials concerned. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER — City aldermen will send a letter to state transportation officials asking them to rethink detours and ramp closures associated with planned repairs on the Interstate 293 bridges connecting Bedford to Manchester, which some warn could result in “nightmare” traffic conditions in the Queen City.

Representatives from the New Hampshire Department of Transportation met with aldermen Tuesday and Bedford town officials last week to update them on the preservation projects. The bridges, which carry I-293 and Route 101 over the Merrimack River and Pan Am Railroad tracks, are being restored as part of a new bridge preservation project expected to start in the spring.

The work will be done in two phases, during which traffic on the three-lane bridges will have to be condensed into two lanes.

Complicating that traffic squeeze is that the Brown Avenue on-ramp to I-293 North/101 West would be closed during some phases of construction. Those closings will force drivers from Brown Avenue to get onto 293 South and do a U-turn at Exit 1 near the Mall of New Hampshire.

“With all the traffic already going eastbound, getting off at Exit 1 would be a nightmare,” said Alderman Barbara Shaw of Ward 9, where the ramps are located. “I’d like to see you figure out some way to keep that open and not close that ramp. It has continuous traffic going all day.”

“Certainly we can expect congestion during the peak commuting hours,” said Joe Johnson, an engineer with Greenman-Pedersen, Inc.

“You are going to create a problem getting on and going to the mall from Brown Ave., because that one backs up now,” said Mayor Ted Gatsas. “Has anybody gone out and looked at the traffic before you made these ideas?”

“What I can say with confidence is that traffic engineering is not an exact science,” Johnson said.

“I agree with the mayor,” said Alderman At Large Dan O’Neil. “Trying to put them southbound on 293, get them off at South Willow, then get them back on is going to be a ... it’s going to be more than a challenge. I don’t know what it’s going to cause.”

According to Jason Tremblay of NHDOT’s Bureau of Bridge Design, the bridges were built in 1958, and widened and redecked in 1991. Each bridge is 914 feet long, 55 feet wide, and carries three 12-foot travel lanes.

“Inspection of the bridges showed that expansion joints were failing,” said Tremblay.

In addition, water is leaking from the expansion joints, which is causing cracking along the lower piers, according to Tremblay. To extend the life of the two bridges, the expansion joints will be replaced, pavement will be replaced, the concrete deck will be improved and proper bridge piers will be installed, he said.

If the contractor works on both bridges at the same time, the project will be finished in the fall of 2018, according to Tremblay.

Although the contractor has not yet been selected, the first phase of the work, with traffic shifted to the right in each direction, is expected to begin in the spring of 2018 and take about 2 1/2 months to complete. The second phase, with traffic shifted to the left, will most likely begin in the summer and take about the same amount of time to complete.

If the contractor works on each bridge separately, the work will be done in the fall of 2019, he said.

Bedford Town Manager Rick Sawyer voiced concerns about the bridge work being completed during the same time as the Route 101 widening project taking place further west, from Wallace Road to the Route 114 intersection.

“Obviously we are expecting major backups from that project, and now throwing this on top of it — it could be quite some time to travel through Bedford into Manchester with both of these projects going on,” Sawyer said. “It will be very challenging, I think next year, to travel through Bedford and to get to the mall side of 101/293.”

Manchester aldermen voted to send a letter to NHDOT officials requesting they look at ways to keep at least one lane of traffic open along the on ramp from Brown Avenue to I-293 North during construction.

“This is going to cause a major backup in the city of Manchester,” said O’Neil. “I would hope you can go back and look at this again.”

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