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Plans continue to widen Interstate 93 through Concord

Last modified: 9/10/2013 4:07:03 PM
Plans to widen Interstate 93 through Concord and Bow could soon take one step closer to reality.

Construction could begin on the project as early as 2018, according to a draft of the latest 10-year plan from the state Department of Transportation, and its funding hinges on increasing tolls. But design work could begin much sooner. A $1.6 million contract for design work will go before the governor and Executive Council for approval in the coming months, said Don Lyford, a project manager for the Department of Transportation.

No design has been set for the project; Lyford said the next phase of work will “come up with one preferred alternative.” The proposed contract is with engineering firm McFarland Johnson.

The project would widen I-93 to three lanes in each direction from Interstate 89 in Bow to between exits 15 and 16 in Concord, according to the draft 10-year plan released yesterday. That work was initially funded in the 10-year plan approved in 2006. It was adjusted in 2008 and dropped in 2010 before planning funding was again moved up in the plan passed last year. The latest draft again advances the project, with design funding scheduled for 2015 and construction set for 2018 through 2022.

But the project’s newest timeline is not final.

Every two years, the Department of Transportation releases a draft plan. A public hearing and revision process could include changes to its many projects, and the plan will not be complete until next June, when it is approved by the Legislature.

“In recent years, we’ve tried to be much more realistic in terms of reflection of what anticipated funding is to be able to pay for those projects,” said Bill Boynton, a spokesman for the Department of Transportation.

Funding to widen I-93 in Concord and Bow, however, depends on increasing tolls and paying for the work with the toll revenue.

Changes to tolls require approval from the governor and Executive Council.

Executive Councilor Colin Van Ostern, whose district includes Concord, said it’s important to improve I-93 to reduce traffic and increase safety. But he said he would like more information before forming an opinion about a toll increase – and the project as a whole. The process is still only in its early stages, he said.

“We need to get a better sense of what all the trade-offs are and what the cost would be,” Van Ostern said.

The design of a wider I-93 through Concord drew attention several years ago. A planning study released in 2008 explored a number of potential designs. Among the options that the study designated as potentially reasonable: a plan to incorporate Storrs Street into the interchange of I-93 and Interstate 393, and connect Storrs Street with the exit at Loudon Road; and the possibility of building I-93 as a tunnel through Concord.

Lyford said the next phase of design work by McFarland Johnson, which also completed the 2008 study, would build on that previous work. Now that some options have been ruled out, he said, the state can determine which design to pursue.

The state has already done work on I-93 that would accommodate a wider interstate, Lyford said. That includes work on bridges at the interchange of I-93 and I-89 in Bow.

“We know enough about what might happen with this next project that those bridges will be wide enough to handle three lanes in each direction,” he said.

And in rebuilding the bridge where Route 3A crosses I-93 at Exit 12, Lyford said the state designed openings with space for up to four lanes of traffic in each direction. Lyford said the widening project has become a priority as congestion increases.

“It’s an ongoing kind of bottleneck now that we’ve fixed (widened) roads to the south,” he said.

A public meeting about the state’s draft 10-year plan will be held in Concord on Sept. 25. It begins at 7 p.m. at the Department of Transportation on Hazen Drive.

(Laura McCrystal can be reached at 369-3312 or lmccrystal@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @lmccrystal.)


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