Bridge Projects Set to Create Yet More Traffic Snarls in Lebanon in 2019

  • A truck driving on Interstate 89 on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018, passes over a bridge spanning the Mascoma River in Lebanon, N.H. It is one of two sets of bridges within a quarter-mile of each other slated for construction projects in 2019. (Valley News - Rick Russell) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Rusted components of a bridge spanning the Mascoma River, one of two bridges on I-89 within a quarter mile of each other that are scheduled to be rehabilitated, photographed on Thursday, Nov.8,2018. (Valley News - Rick Russell) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Thursday, November 08, 2018

Lebanon — Construction on a group of bridges carrying Interstate 89 over Mechanic Street and the Mascoma River could further hinder traffic in Lebanon next year, much to the chagrin of businesses and commuters already bracing for roadwork-related delays.

Both lanes of the highway will remain open as crews work to rehabilitate two bridges that cross over Route 4 and preserve another pair over the river. But engineers said drivers can expect short lane and sidewalk closings on the busy Mechanic Street corridor during the three-year project, which is slated to begin in July.

The construction also will close I-89’s northbound off-ramp for three to four weeks, officials with the New Hampshire Department of Transportation told Lebanon’s City Council on Wednesday.

However, it’s not yet clear when that closing might occur.

“We intend to meet with our district construction engineer to come up with realistic time frames for durations for each (construction) phase, but we are thinking the ramp would need to be closed sometime in the middle of construction,” Joseph Adams, a chief consultant at the New Hampshire Department of Transportation, said in an email on Thursday.

“It’s going to be a problem knowing that Exit 18 is a nightmare already,” said Paul Hebert, who works in human resources at Timken Aerospace, which operates a facility just west of the exit.

Hebert predicted that a significant number of the company’s employees could have trouble commuting to its Mechanic Street facility if the ramp were to close. Some already drive long distance to get to work, he added.

All of the bridges were built in 1966 and are in need of some work, engineers said in an audio recording of Wednesday’s meeting. The two that cross Route 4 will require a completely new superstructure, while those over the river require only patching and deck repairs, they said.

But any new construction in the area is likely to irk drivers, who now are enjoying two-way traffic on Mechanic Street, after a summer of roadwork led to heavy congestion and delays along the busy thoroughfare.

That relief likely will be short-lived, though, as the city and state plan more projects along the Route 4 corridor.

Next year, crews will begin rehabilitating the Mascoma Street bridge that connects downtown to Mascoma and Mechanic streets, replacing its deck and steel girders in the summertime.

The project is expected to result in one-way traffic over the bridge, with a detour wrapping up High Street and down Hanover Street, according to city officials.

Around the same time, the city plans to begin work on another section of sewer and stormwater lines between Freihofer’s Bakery Outlet and Blacksmith Street. Drivers will see alternating one-lane traffic there, as well.

The construction is part of the combined sewer overflow projects, a $75 million effort to separate waste and stormwater in the city’s sewer system. The projects are federally mandated to be complete by Nov. 1.

The Mascoma Street bridge that runs over Interstate 89 also is expected to close down next summer as the state plans to repair its structure.

And in 2020, Lebanon officials hope to break ground on a new roundabout at the intersection of Mechanic and Mascoma streets, with another roundabout possible in 2023 at Mechanic Street and Slayton Hill Road.

“Certainly, being a retailer on Mechanic Street between Exit 19 and downtown Lebanon has been a challenge this last year,” said Bruce Bergeron, who owns the Jake’s Market and Deli convenience store and the Jake’s Coffee Co. shop.

Bergeron said his businesses on Mechanic Street saw a 50 percent drop in traffic during the four months that crews worked on the roadway. He predicted the next three to four summers will have a similar effect.

“It’s definitely going to have an impact on our coffee shop for sure,” Bergeron said of the potential ramp closing. “All of the other projects we heard about earlier were devastating enough.”

City councilors issued similar traffic concerns on Wednesday, and encouraged the state engineers to meet with officials at Advance Transit ahead of any traffic delays or closings.

The nonprofit bus company used Interstate 89 as an alternate route during the recent reconstruction of Mechanic Street, and could be affected by additional roadwork, Councilor Karen Liot Hill said.

“Now, the only east-west corridors in the city are both going to be under construction, so that’s definitely going to be an impact for Advance Transit,” she said.

Engineers said they would take the Council’s concerns into consideration as they continue to plan for the project.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.