Fresh pavement now covers the northernmost part of the Interstate 93 widening project, a sign that the end of a decade of work is near.
Last week, crews removed traffic cones and barrels as cleanup began on the 3.3-mile stretch from just north of Exit 5 in Londonderry to the I-293 split.
The rest of the 19.8-mile project from Salem to Manchester is on track to be completed by the end of September, according to project manager Wendy Johnson. The fourth lane is being worked on from the Massachusetts border to Exit 5 in both directions.
“I think everyone has been looking forward to that more than anything,” Johnson said.
R.S. Audley Construction worked through the winter on projects near Exit 1 and Exit 4. The heavy lifting remains at Exit 4, where traffic in both directions share the northbound side of the highway, reduced to two lanes in each direction.
Some initial paving on the southbound lanes near Exit 4 began on Friday, said Jay Levine, I-93 corridor construction supervisor with the state Department of Transportation.
“You are going to see a lot of paving going on because we have 40,000 to 45,000 tons of asphalt to put out in the next couple of months,” he said.
Once the southbound lanes are open, contractors can wrap up work on the northbound lanes.
“You’re probably going to see sometime around Labor Day us coming out of the current traffic control phase we are in,” Levine said.
“We’ll have a brand new road for 20 miles, and we really shouldn’t have any issues for a long time,” Levine said.
“You would go to work in the morning, and there would be so many places where you would be stopped. Now it is free-flowing right to the Mass. line, even with us still out there.”
The total project is expected to cost about $762.5 million, just under the anticipated $781 million price tag. Some cost-saving came through bid competition and contractors streamlining some work. Nothing was cut from the original designs, Johnson said.
Some of the challenges over the years included environmental reviews and the need to reduce salt runoff along the corridor to get the final OK to open the fourth lane.
The COVID-19 pandemic actually helped contractors expedite some of the project.
"We had a two-, three-month advantage of having lighter traffic volumes,” Levine said. “Traffic is definitely picking up now, but it is nowhere near the pre-pandemic level.”
In spite of inevitable construction choke points, the entire project was divided into sections to improve traffic right away.
“We started with the congestion relief projects, which really helped with some of the key pinch points,” Johnson said.
Next up, the state 10-year transportation plan signed by Gov. Chris Sununu last month includes work to advance the construction of Exit 4A in Derry and Londonderry and another major widening project in Concord.
The work near Exit 5 included widening five miles of the interstate, reconstruction of six bridges and work on five ramps, according to Audley’s website. The bid for the work came in at $62.3 million.
“This is currently the largest project in our history and is connected to our other I-93 widening project to the south,” the website reads.
Audley is one of several contractors working on the project, including Alvin J. Coleman & Sons, Inc., which just completed the work north of Exit 5.
Audley is on schedule to finish its work on time.
With the end in sight, “It feels weird,” Johnson said. “It’s definitely very surreal. It seems like we’ve been working on this goal for so long. Everybody is very excited to finish this project.”