The situation with U.S. Route 44 in southeastern Massachusetts is going to get straightened out — in more ways than one.
Before long, the winding road will be just a memory because work is now progressing on a project to build an entirely new Route 44.
The highway has always been a problem road. Its serpentine route between Plymouth and Plympton has always been a torture to drive. The road is among the oldest in the state, so it comes from a time when highways were not designed in such an efficient manner.
“The current route is not a high-speed road. It’s a one-lane, circuitous road,” said Tom Broderick, chief engineer of the Massachusetts Department of Highways (MassHighway). But once the work on this massive job is finished, traffic flow will be much better. Also, there has been little opportunity for economic development along the road, but that is likely to change once things are improved.
Route 44 travels all the way from historic Plymouth west through Rhode Island, Connecticut and into southern New York state, covering approximately 220 mi. (352 km), but the work will be done on its easternmost 7.5 mi.(12 k). In all, four towns are being affected: Plymouth, Kingston, Carver and Plympton.
Plymouth is probably best known for Plimoth Plantation, a re-creation of the village first settled by the Pilgrims who came to the New World on the Mayflower. Nearly half a million visitors come to the museum every year, so easy access to the town is crucial. People can come from the north and south via Route 3, which runs along the coast. But for anyone traveling from the west, including Rhode Island and Connecticut, Route 44 may be the most direct way to get there.
People from the 21st century can see how the Pilgrims lived back in the 1600s — the food they grew, their voyage across the Atlantic on the Mayflower and the crafts they fashioned. The changes evident between the lifestyles of the Pilgrims and those of present day Americans are just as striking as those Route 44 is undergoing right now.
In some places, the highway’s new route will take quite a different course than it has in the past. For the first couple miles, it cuts a new path, quite distant from the original. But closer to Plymouth, it follows a route much closer to the old road. It ultimately leaves the original road as it nears the other end.
“This will cut travel time in half for traffic on Route 44,” said Steve Rose, general manager of construction of P.A. Landers Inc., of Hanover, MA, one of the primary contractors on the job.
The project is split into three different phases, one of which has already been completed. Several miles of the highway between intersections with Routes 80 and 3 have been widened. That portion of the work started six years ago. The remaining work has been divided between P.A. Landers and D.W. White Construction of Millbury, MA.
P.A. Landers is building a brand new stretch of road near the Cherry Street intersection in Kingston. D.W. White’s job is to construct a four-lane highway at the western end of the project, from the intersection with Route 58 to the Kingston town line. Things may seem confusing because the work is not being done sequentially. Although one section has been completed, the substructure at the western end of the affected highway is just now being constructed.
“We’re taking an existing road and making it virgin construction,” commented Rose. Landers just started working on its own 2-mi. segment of the highway.
“Progress is pretty good, but there are some major environmental issues before the last two phases can proceed,” Broderick said.
Landers is not only building the new road, it also is moving 14 acres (5.6 ha) of cranberry bogs and wetlands and replicating it in another area. Because of this, workers will have moved 50,000 cu. yds. (38,000 cu m) of muck.
“We’re doing the site work, but a botanist and a landscaper has been hired,” Rose said.
Much of the rest of the route goes through wooded area and Rose said that approximately 2 million cu. yds. of dirt (1.52 million cu m) will be transported out of the area.
P.A. Landers is using many different machines on the project, primarily Caterpillars. Included are Caterpillar 375 and 330 excavators; 980, 966 and 950 loaders; and 653 gravel compactors, along with Volvo 835 end dump trucks.
Landers’ part of the project started in March 2001 and is expected to be completed in November 2004. The entire job should be done in 2005.