I-293 bridge closures could lead to 'nightmare' traffic

New Hampshire Union Leader
April 25. 2018 8:02PM
 (Union Leader file)

MANCHESTER — City and state officials have scheduled a meeting next month to detail detours and ramp closures scheduled for next year as part of planned repairs on the Interstate 293 bridges connecting Bedford to Manchester, which some have warned could result in “nightmare” traffic conditions in the Queen City.

The meeting, which is expected to include comments and a presentation by officials with the New Hampshire Department of Transportation (NHDOT), will be held Thursday, May 10, at 6 p.m., at Highland-Goffe’s Falls Elementary School, 2021 Goffs Falls Road in Manchester.

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.

The work will be done in two phases — kicking off in April 2019 — 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 will be closed during some phases of construction. Those closings will force drivers looking to access I-293 North 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, during a meeting with state officials last fall.

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. An inspection of the bridges showed that expansion joints were failing, Tremblay told city aldermen in October.

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.

The first phase of the work, with traffic shifted to the right in each direction, is expected to begin in mid-April of 2019 and take about 2½ months to complete. The second phase, with traffic shifted to the left, will most likely begin in the summer and wrap up sometime in October 2019.

Robert Landry, an engineer with the NHDOT, said next month’s meeting in Manchester is the first step in making sure the public is aware of the project and associated detours, in an effort to avoid potential gridlock.

“We’ll have highway message boards, public meetings, information published online,” Landry said. “We’re committed to making sure the public is aware of what’s going on.”

Manchester aldermen voted last fall 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 Alderman At Large Dan O’Neil at the time. “I would hope you can go back and look at this again.”

“The ramp closure off Brown Avenue is still part of the project,” Landry said Wednesday. “We took into consideration all the concerns about closing that ramp raised at the meeting with city officials. Leaving it open just didn’t work. Part of what we’ll get into at this meeting are the reasons why.”

Landry encouraged anyone looking for more information on the planned work to visit the project website: www.nh.gov/dot/projects/bedfordmanchester40731.


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