A new phase of a major highway construction project in western Massachusetts is scheduled to begin this week, one that could result in more delays for motorists and more noise for people who live and work near the project.
MassDOT announced the contractor on the project to reconstruct the elevated portion of Interstate 91 in downtown Springfield will begin demolishing the reinforced concrete bridge deck of the highway. The work, scheduled to begin Wednesday, will take place on the inner northbound lane of the I-91 viaduct.
The contractor will work both a day shift from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. and a 4 p.m. to midnight shift Monday-Friday. The contractor is planning to use several noise mitigation techniques, according to MassDOT.
Curtains have been installed in certain areas to muffle the noise. Construction vehicles have been retrofitted with self-adjusting back-up alarms that limit the sound to a set volume above the background noise.
Work to rebuild the entire 2.5 mile elevated portion of the highway through Springfield began in earnest two months ago with travel lane reductions and ramp closures. The first workday after the changes resulted in serious traffic jams. Delays have eased since as motorists have adjusted travel times and found alternate routes.
In announcing the start of the deck demolition work, MassDOT again urged drivers to avoid the construction zone and seek alternate routes.
The relatively snowless winter in western Massachusetts has apparently helped keep the project on, or slightly ahead, of schedule. Massachusetts Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack, during a visit to Springfield last week, said there is optimism the project will finish by late 2017.
" My understanding is that project is actually running a bit ahead of schedule," Pollack told reporters.
Early completion financial incentives were written into the $185 million contract for the highway project, according to Tim Brennan, executive director of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission.
"The contractor gets $50,000 per day to a maximum of $8 million-$9 million if they can beat the agreed upon termination date," said Brennan.
The contractor would face financial penalties if all the highway ramps and lanes are not open to traffic by August 6, 2018.
I-91 carries 75,000 vehicles a day through downtown Springfield.
" I've said it before, I-91 is the really the spinal cord of the ( Pioneer) Valley, you've got to have it in service," said Brennan.
The elevated highway was built in the 1960s, and it had deteriorated badly by the time the project to refurbish it was announced in 2013. MassDOT said $2.5 million was being spent annually on emergency repairs.
Parking spaces, located beneath the bridge decks, had to be closed from time-to-time because of falling chunks of concrete.