| G. Michael Dobbs
SPRINGFIELD – Wait for it – the closing of lanes and exits on Interstate 91 is imminent, but the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) is not quite ready yet.
At the meeting on Dec. 8 at the Basketball Hall of Fame, MassDOT officials said the preparations necessary for the closing of the lanes and exits will be heralded by an announcement five days before the event actually takes place.
Richard Massie of MassDOT said, “It’s in the very near future. It’s coming very soon.”
The meeting was scheduled for two hours, allowing for time for questions, but concluded only after two questions were asked about 35 minutes after it started.
MassDOT is finishing what they call Stage 1A in which the preparations of the exit and lane closings are being made. The following exists will be closed this month until the fall of 2017: Bernie Avenue Connector; Union Street on-ramp to Interstate 91 north; State Street ramp to Interstate 91 north; Exit 7 off ramp from Interstate 91 south; Exit 6 off ramp from Interstate 91 south; and the Route 20 connector to Interstate 91 south.
A new exit, West Columbus/Birnie Avenue Exit 7-6, has been built for Interstate 91 south for motorist to reach downtown Springfield, the Memorial Bridge and the Basketball Hall of Fame.
The Exit 9 off ramp from Interstate 91 north to Route 20 will be closed in the late fall 2016.
Stage 1B, in which the inner travel lanes of Interstate 91 along the median will be closed for deck repair and replacement, is expected to continue until the late fall of 2016.
Ralph Romano, resident engineer, said the condition of the viaduct is “horrible.”
With the closing of the exits will come new signal lights to help move traffic on nearby city streets, a series of detour signs and traffic information signs to update motorists on conditions, Romano said.
“Traffic management is not an exact science. It responds to human behavior,” Romano said.
He added a towing company would be on call with a 10-minute response to help remove any disabled car that might impede traffic on the viaduct.
Taylor Rock, Worksite Outreach coordinator, for the MassRides commuting program of MassDOT, spoke about the services that could bring commuters using the viaduct together to decrease the number of cars using the highway. She cited the results of a survey of Interstate 91 motorists taken last year. Of the nearly 3,000 respondents, 94 percent is the viaduct; 96 percent drive alone. Nearly 40 percent say they have flexible hours and most people’s departure time from work is between 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. The MassDOT Nuride program (http://www.nuride.com/MassRIDES) helps creates carpools and van pools, Rock added.
Rock said workplace solutions to take some of the traffic off of the viaduct, especially during the time of its repair, is the establishment of an alternative work schedule, instituting tele-commuting by working at home and a shorter work with longer days.
Stage 2 will start in late 2016 to late fall 2017 at which time the travel lanes will shift and the remaining lanes on the viaduct will be replaced.
Romano said MassDOT expects traffic will be restored on the viaduct in the late fall 2017.
For more information, go to www.massdot.state.ma.us/i91viaductrehab.