The state is advancing four lanes along Interstate 93 from the Massachusetts border in Salem to Manchester, following years of work by state officials to reduce salt runoff and its environmental impact.
The $770.5 million, 19.8-mile widening project that began more than a decade ago is about 85% complete.
The latest milestone was the opening of three lanes all the way from the Massachusetts border to the Kendall Pond Road bridge in Derry in both directions.
Work north of Exit 5 in Londonderry to the I-293 split in Manchester will wrap up by July 4, but the four lanes on the southbound lanes won’t open until next fall.
“By the fall of next year we will be in a four-lane configuration for both the north and southbound lanes from the Massachusetts border to the 293 split,” said project manager Wendy Johnson.
“We are right on schedule,” she said.
“They’ve done a good job — I know that,” said Andy Santo, of Salem, as he filled up at the Mobil gas station off Exit 3. “It relieves a lot of pressure.”
He travels north on the weekends and thinks the project is worth the wait.
“It would be a horror show if they didn’t do it,” he said.
Since the start of the project, state transportation and environmental agencies have had discussions on how to reduce salt runoff and elevated chloride levels in nearby watersheds.
The environmental permit for the project required DOT to develop an implementation plan to reduce salt use in the winter, said Ted Diers, administrator of the state’s watershed management bureau at the Department of Environmental Services.
Some of the work has included annual snow and ice training, use of brine (a salt solution) to pre-treat roads, and implementing new technology to track salt use.
“I agree they have fulfilled those best management practices they promised,” Diers said.
The salt use is down about 20% along the corridor, according to Johnson.
“We have come a long way,” she said.
The budget is also on track with the latest price tag of $770.5 million as of February, according to Johnson.
“At the current time it appears we could be slightly lower than that number,” she wrote in an email to the Union Leader. “The cost difference would be attributed to minor changes in prices reflecting recently received bid prices versus estimated prices, and using actual expenditures for the work that is being completed as we begin to wrap up some of our projects.”
The major work being done over the next year will be focused around Exit 4, where contractors continue to place fill, install drainage features in the median and build part of the southbound bridge over Beaver Brook.
To accommodate the work, the department will bring the southbound traffic into the northbound lanes starting sometime between Halloween and Thanksgiving, which has been done at different times throughout the project.
“We will be working through the winter to construct the southbound portions so that when the paving contractors open up for business in April we will then start the bulk of the paving,” said Jay Levine, I-93 corridor construction supervisor with DOT.
“There is a lot of paving in the springtime,” Levine said.
David Juvet, senior vice president of public policy at the Business and Industry Association, said the road widening will decrease safety hazards and congestion, which will help draw more businesses and tourism to the state.
“It is the main conduit for people from the south to get into the state,” he said.
While not part of the project, the state is set to accommodate a separate project to construct Exit 4A, which will go between Exits 4 and 5 — about a mile north of Exit 4 in Londonderry — and lead traffic east into Derry, running about 3.2 miles to Route 102. Plans were submitted to federal highway officials for a record of decision last month.
“We coordinated so we could avoid as much conflict and reconstruction as possible,” Johnson said.
The state recently began nighttime work to reconstruct and widen nearly 2 miles between the state line and Exit 1 in Salem to accommodate a future fourth lane connection to I-93 in Massachusetts.
“If Massachusetts adds a fourth lane, we’ll be ready to tie in,” Johnson said.