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Interstate 89 projects pose commute problems for Lebanon, Hartford

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 6/5/2019 10:39:22 PM
Modified: 6/5/2019 10:39:13 PM

LEBANON — A slew of construction along the Interstate 89 corridor is expected to slow traffic in Lebanon and Hartford beginning next year.

Reconstruction of two bridges that carry the freeway over the Connecticut River has the potential to cause the biggest delays, at least for short periods of time, according to state transportation officials.

Plans to close the northbound lane overnight for up to a month would force commuters to get off at Exit 20 and detour through downtown West Lebanon and White River Junction, design project manager Gene McCarthy, of engineering firm McFarland Johnson, told the Lebanon City Council on Wednesday.

That detour would occur sometime between 2020 and 2021 to allow crews to transport large pieces of steel, he said.

“In order to place steel here, it has to go over traffic, which is not advisable,” McCarthy said. “This is not during the day, and it will not affect peak traffic.”

Crews are scheduled to begin work on the two bridges, which carry more than 41,000 vehicles a day, in January and will continue in phases until summer 2024, McCarthy said.

Over that time, the deck and superstructure of the bridges will be completely removed and replaced. They’ll also be widened to create auxiliary lanes, essentially merger lanes that will allow traffic to travel between interstates 89 and 91 without having to briefly merge with through traffic.

The widened road also would provide more room for disabled vehicles and maintenance crews.

Once complete, each bridge will have two travel lanes and a single auxiliary lane, which will require the installation of new pier supports and a substructure between those already in place.

The project is expected to cost about $35.6 million. Of that, the federal government will pay $10 million and the Vermont Agency of Transportation will contribute $11.3 million, with New Hampshire footing the rest of the bill.

The New Hampshire/Vermont state line is situated on the west bank of the Connecticut River, so the Granite State is largely responsible for building and maintaining bridges between the two.

The I-89 bridges are listed as second and third on New Hampshire’s “red list” priority ranking, meaning they’re inspected twice yearly due to their poor condition. Other state-owned bridges receive inspections every two years.

And since they haven’t seen major rehabilitation work since their construction in 1966, the bridges are showing “severe signs of distress,” according to a 2017 grant application the New Hampshire DOT submitted for the project.

“Cracking and delamination on the bridge decks, putting and section loss along the steel beams, and even cracking and the formation of holes within and beams and cross members,” have all been observed by inspectors, the application said.

McCarthy said crews will attempt to keep two north and southbound travel lanes open on the bridges during much of the four-year construction effort. However, motorists will see some short-term closures and detours.

The most significant detour, scheduled for a month sometime between 2020 and 2021, would force drivers off the highway at Exit 20 and reroute them up Route 12A, over the Route 4 bridge to White River Junction and have them get onto I-91, where they then could exit back onto I-89.

And between 2021 and 2022, a new traffic pattern could be implemented on I-89 south, where vehicles entering the highway from I-91 would be kept in a separate travel lane until driving onto the bridge, where they’ll then be allowed the merge.

Closing of the ramp to I-91 northbound for a few days also would see motorists traveling through West Lebanon and White River Junction to access the Vermont highway.

Other infrastructure projects beginning next year also could snarl traffic in Lebanon.

There will be lane shifting and a one-week closure of the Exit 19 northbound on-ramp to I-89 next summer, as crews continue work on that stretch of the highway, Deputy City Manager Paula Maville said on Wednesday afternoon.

The state also plans to close the Mascoma Street bridge over I-89 between March and August of 2020 for a rehabilitation project, she said.

And the city will perform work that year to complete upgrades to the sewer line along Mechanic Street and build a pedestrian and bicycle tunnel under the Lebanon Mall.

City councilors on Wednesday appeared to have few concerns with the I-89 bridge plans and asked questions largely about its engineering.

“This is a really ambitious project,” Lebanon Mayor Tim McNamara said. “It doesn’t sound like (there’s) a whole lot of impact for a protracted period of time.”

Tim Camerato can be reached at or 603-727-3223.

Valley News

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