By Carley Dangonacarley@thereminder.com
SPRINGFIELD – Criticisms about the accessibility of downtown Springfield and the fact that the Interstate 91 viaduct repair would be simultaneous with other major road construction projects have been heard.
The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) conducted its second public hearing on May 20 at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame to present updated design details that incorporate the public’s feedback from the first hearing in February and to gather further input from the 55 people in attendance.
The total estimated cost of the project is $230 million. MassDOT anticipated that finalized plans will be presented in July and the viaduct reconstruction could start as early as November.
Michael O’Dowd, MassDOT project manager, stated that the project is “contingent upon receiving federal funds.” The Federal Highway Administration can contribute up to 80 percent of the total cost. Congress is currently deciding whether to extend the transportation funding.
The construction plan is outlined on the MassDOT website (www.massdot.state.ma.us/highway/HighlightedProjects/I91ViaductRehabilitation.aspx
). It states, “Construction will take place in phases with two travel lanes in each direction remaining open for the duration of the project. Regional traffic will be maintained on the existing bridge and local traffic will be maintained on the surrounding city streets, including East and West Columbus avenues. Traffic will be managed during the deck replacement through a combination of lane closures and shifts to establish work zones on the interior and then exterior of the northbound and southbound viaduct to complete the work.
“In addition to the lane reduction on the viaduct, ramp closures will be needed through the work area. Exits 6 and 7 on I-91 southbound will be closed and traffic detoured to a temporary ramp to be constructed north of Exit 8 to provide access to downtown Springfield via West and East Columbus avenues. The on-ramps to I-91 northbound from both State and Union streets will also need to be closed. I-91 northbound access will be provided via East Columbus Avenue, with I-291 access provided via a detour off of East Columbus Avenue to Liberty and Dwight streets.”
O’Dowd said, “What we have done since [the last hearing] is take an inclusive look into the casino and West Springfield projects.” He stated the department has made “very aggressive efforts” that include additional surveying of the area, investigation of the I-91 structure and monitoring of the traffic patterns.
In response to suggestions from the public, MassDOT conducted a survey. More than 3,000 people responded during the survey period from April 2 to May 1. According to results, 94 percent of the respondents utilize I-91, Interstate 291 and East Columbus Avenue. Forty-five percent of those who responded use the I-91 parking garage.
“What it did for us is that it confirmed a number of the assumptions. It augmented and supplemented a lot of the information that, perhaps, we were making assumptions on. But now, based upon the 3,000 responses we received, we have a little bit better confidence. We feel confident knowing that we will be able to maintain access and maintain current driver habits and travel habits on the interstate with the two-lane configuration as well as being able to manage the traffic on the local streets,” O’Dowd stated.
O’Dowd said MassDOT is approaching the project by assuming the “worst case scenario and planning for that.” He stressed the importance of maintaining two lanes of traffic in both directions, with the exceptions of “some overnight and off-peak periods of one lane” to allow for needs such as the delivery of materials. “It’s like changing the oil on your car while the engine is running,” he commented.
O’Dowd stated that prior to the deck replacement; a series of improved traffic signals will be implemented throughout downtown Springfield, including a temporary signal on Liberty Street. The goal is to keep the roads safe for vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists. However, details regarding the latter two are still in the design process. The goal is to “optimize the operation through these corridors” by using newer equipment and adjusting the detection sensors.
O’Dowd also addressed the schedule of the upcoming West Springfield capital projects.
“We are coordinating with the contractor team for the Memorial Avenue projects in next June, July and August, where they’re intending to do a major closure so that they can do some significant pieces of the bridge deck over there.” The goal is to ensure that the traffic management plans don’t conflict,” O’Dowd said.
“We’re also going to make sure that we communicate that in our contract documents to the contractors for the I-91 project. Knowing when the two critical natures will be, we would be able to devise a contingency plan in the event that there is a major conflict. But, we don’t see that there will be one right now based upon some of the discussions we’ve had,” he continued.
Mike Culmo, vice president of Transportation & Structure for CME Associates Inc., addressed the issue of the concurrent long-term feasibility study of the I-91 viaduct. He assured the audience that the MassDOT representatives conducting that project were in frequent communication with the I-91 team.
Culmo stated that using accelerated bridge construction techniques where pre-cast, concreted deck panels are used to build the deck will cut the project duration of five to six years in half. He noted that there will be some “short-term closures of portions of the [I-91] garages.” The viaduct team is working with the Springfield Parking Authority to develop further parking options.
“What we’ve committed to the city and I commit to you tonight is that the contractor won’t be able to occupy both the garages on the North and South sides simultaneously. We will place language into the contract that stipulates that they can only be working on either the North garage or the South garage so that we can afford the city and the businesses to maintain usage of those,” O’Dowd said.
In regards to the possibility of the MGM Springfield casino conflicting with the viaduct reconstruction, O’Dowd said there has been “multiple coordination efforts with another scheduled [meeting with MGM] this month.”