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Enormous Growth Spurs Route 3 Improvements

Tue September 19, 2006 - Northeast Edition
Kip Fry

Imagine this for a traffic scenario for Route 3 in northeastern Massachusetts. Between 1970 and 1990, the average daily traffic volume for the road between Burlington and the New Hampshire state line increased more than 300 percent. Moving into the next millennium, these figures were expected to rise another 40 percent.

This was the way things went throughout the Boston region in recent years. But Route 3 may be the most extreme case.

Part of the problem was that so many new businesses had been created near the corridor that a good highway was needed to let workers get to their jobs. Five major office buildings are scheduled to be built near the corridor that would add more than 3 million sq. ft. (270,000 sq m) of new office space. As a result, as many as 25,000 new vehicle trips per day would be added.

But that scenario creates the other part of the problem: employers are likely to have trouble hiring people because access to the facilities would be difficult.

As far back as 1992, a socioeconomic study of the highway said that there would be “substantial increases” in jobs and housing. The “region’s roadways are now operating at or near capacity.” In the 14 years since then, little had apparently changed.

That’s when the Massachusetts Highway Department (MassHighway) stepped in. With a launch date of 2001, the $385-million construction project took 21 mi. (33.6 km) of the highway and redesigned and rebuilt it to help it deal with the escalated traffic flow. Work was substantially completed in August.

The most important feature was the addition of a third lane of traffic, in each direction. Everything was planned in anticipation of future needs. The design actually allowed for a fourth lane to be added in the future if the need arises, according to Frank Suszynski, project manager of MassHighway.

Along with the travel lanes, a 10-ft. (3 m) shoulder was added in the median.

“That way traffic won’t have to slow down when it comes toward the edge of the road. The high-speed side will be much broader,” Suszynski explained.

A full breakdown lane was planned on the far right-hand side of the highway going in both directions. The two current lanes of traffic also received a new coat of pavement.

All the current lanes received an entirely new surface. To begin with, 2 or 3 in. (5 or 7.6 cm) of old pavement was removed and 7 in. (17.8 cm) of new pavement added, so there is actually more pavement than previously.

Possibly an even more impressive part of the work was that 30 bridges were being replaced along the stretch — 47 separate structures. All of the spans were designed with four lanes stretching across the breadth of each. That way, the spans will be wide enough to handle the traffic when the road requires more capacity in the future.

However, vehicles will not be able to use the extra lane because they will be the only parts of the highway with four lanes. The road itself will have only three lanes. As a result, stripes will be painted on the pavement to keep the vehicles out of the extra lane.

Of the 47 structures, four were already structurally deficient and 13 were expected to become so within the next several years. Fifteen others were already functionally obsolete.

“The highway was in bad shape and the bridges were structurally deficient. That was a big concern,” Suszynski said. The new bridges have all been built to last approximately 75 years, while the old ones lasted only 45 years.

A little bit closer to the ground was the work that was done on 13 interchanges. Included in that is the Drum Hill Rotary, located where Route 3 intersects with State Highway 4 near Chelmsford.

The intersection was considered one of the most dangerous in the state. A short distributor road was added between Interstate 495 and Route 110, a section of less than 1 mi.

“Two lanes are being added on each side for merging. It will make a huge difference,” said Suszynski.

Like many major projects, there were some challenges, such as when a concrete barrier developed a crack approximately a foot from its top. But the problem was solved when the split was pressure injected with an epoxy.

Work also was slowed when the primary contractor Modern Continental of Cambridge, MA, ran into financial difficulties and had to cut some of its personnel, according to Suszynski. The company was splitting its remaining crew between this project and another one. So what was initially planned to be finished by May 2004 was stretched into 2006.

The work being done is less than had been originally expected because two commercial visitor centers that were planned on either side of the road have been tabled due to zoning concerns. They may still be built on the southbound section of road as ancillary development, said Suszynski.

Approximately $12 million of the project remains to finish the work, which primarily consists of work such as testing traffic signals, installing ITS systems — overhead message boards — and seeding the banks.

Modern Continental has done much of the concrete and earthwork on the project. Other subcontractors include: Atlantic Blasting, Milford, MA, demolition; Soini Erosion Control, Fitchburg, MA; Keystone Construction, North Billerica, MA, bridge erection; and Mohawk Construction, Tewksbury, MA, re-enforced steel installation.

The work was a “typical road job,” according to Jack Kelliher, assistant project manager of Modern Continental, adding that many traditional machines had been used, including Case and Gradall excavators, Tadano 35-ton boom trucks and John Deere bulldozers.

Funding for the project was through an innovative process in which tax-exempt bonds would be reimbursed by the state when the project was done. CEG

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