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Over the Rivers and Through the Woods

Tue November 29, 2005 - Northeast Edition
Kip Fry



Driving Route 44 in southeastern Massachusetts will be a much simpler task once the third phase of a large construction project is completed this month.

The U.S. highway is one of the oldest in Massachusetts so when it was built, it did not follow modern design techniques. As a result, it wound dangerously through the towns of Carver, Kingston and Plympton, making it a dangerous road on which many people have died in accidents.

But an entirely new four-lane highway is being built that follows a wider and straighter path with a different route. The new road takes much more of a straight arrow line through nearby woods and cranberry bogs, according to Steve Rose, general manager of construction of P.A. Landers, of Hanover, MA, the primary contractor on the project.

In all, the road will cover 6.5 mi. (10.4 km) and will include five new bridges and two new interchanges. The new road will start .6 mi. (.96 km) west of the Route 58 intersection and continue west to Middleboro. It will be a divided highway with two lanes of traffic and a breakdown lane going each direction.

One of the new bridges will cross the Winnetuxet River, and will consist of five spans totaling 300 ft. (91 m). The other four will cross side streets in the communities and will measure between 100 and 250 ft. (30.3-75.8 m).

Two new diamond-shaped interchanges will have to be constructed, as well, Rose said. They will be added where Route 44 meets Route 58, a north-south highway connecting Halifax and West Wareham, and the intersection with Spring Street in Plympton.

Most of the work is being done away from current roads so no detours have been needed in most places. The only detour is at the Spring Street interchange where traffic has been interrupted, Rose said.

The project started in spring 2001. Rose said there should be little problem finishing the work on time this November.

“There have been many concerns along the way, such as environmental concerns and design concerns, but God willing, it will be done on time,” he said.

Some of the concerns about the environment have been built right into the plans. Because the new highway goes directly through a state forest and essentially splits it in two, a tunnel has been built under the road to let people and wildlife walk safely from one side to the other without having to cross the highway.

To build the road through the countryside, crews are moving more than 2 million cu. yds. (1.52 million cu m) of earth.

“The basic scope of the work is simple. We move dirt from one location to another and we build a road. It’s not rocket science,” Rose said.

Because the road is being built from scratch, a large number of specialty contractors are being utilized. Aetna Bridge, of Pawtucket, RI, is in charge of building all five bridges. Cosco Inc., of Warwick, RI, is installing the guardrails, while Precision Group, of Peabody, MA, will do the landscaping.

P.A. Landers is using a variety of machines to complete the work. They include Caterpillar bulldozers from D3 to D8 and Caterpillar excavators from 315 to 375, as well as a significant number of Caterpillar front wheel loaders. The list is topped off by Volvo articulated end dump trucks, along with other paving and compaction machinery.

This is not the first section of Route 44 to be rebuilt and relocated. Another part of the project further east toward Plymouth, the highway’s eastern terminus, has already been completed. That work was done between Route 58 and Route 3 in Plymouth and accomplished much the same thing, straightening the highway on a brand new path.

Landers and D.W. White Construction, of Millbury, MA, performed much of that work.

The highway stretches along an important route in southern New England, starting in Plymouth and wandering through Providence, RI, Hartford, CT, and Poughkeepsie, NY, a distance of approximately 220 mi. (352 km).

Plymouth is best known as the place where the Pilgrims first landed approximately 400 years ago, a fact that is celebrated by Plimouth Plantation, a re-creation of their village. It attracts approximately 500,000 visitors a year, so access to it is important. Route 44 is one of the primary ways to get to the Plantation from the west. The area also is one of the primary places for growing cranberries in the United States. Half of the nation’s berries come from this region.

Work is proceeding well on the project, according to Rose.

“We have six months to get finished. We basically have paving and landscaping left to do,” Rose said.

A total of $45.5 million has been budgeted for the work, which will come from the 2005 Transportation Improvement Program for the Southeastern Massachusetts Metropolitan Planning Organization. CEG