Starting this week, drivers on Interstate 495 north in Haverhill are taking a different path when crossing the Merrimack River just before the Route 110/113 exit.
The travel lanes have been shifted to a newly built median road and northbound bridge. The shift will reduce the speed limit from 65 mph to 55 mph in that area while construction and demolition work continues.
The entire bridge replacement project is expected to be complete by June of 2022, according to MassDOT officials.
The $102.6 million project to replace the bridge that carries northbound and southbound traffic over the Merrimack River between exits 48 and 49 is being done in phases to minimize disruptions in travel. The federal government is paying 80 percent of the cost and the state is paying the rest, MassDOT officials said.
The bridge has long been a trouble spot because of potholes and other problems with its surface, which has been cited as the cause of crashes, including two in late 2010 that involved trailers carrying animals.
In August of 2016, a large pothole developed in a southbound lane that resulted in gridlock on I-495 that backed up traffic on most of the main roads in Haverhill.
Then in March of 2017, another pothole formed in a southbound lane of the bridge that resulted in damage to 10 vehicles and required closure of the center lane while repairs were made, police said.
City Councilor William Macek, who in the past has expressed concerns about the bridge's "washboard-like surface" and pieces of the surface that fell into the river, said the project is long overdue.
"The state could never properly repair that bridge due to its flawed, initial design and we're fortunate there was never a major accident with severe injury or death," Macek said. "I think the current project has been moving along with little disruption to traffic, and I think they've done a good job to ensure the flow of traffic through the construction zone.
"I'm looking forward to two new bridges for safe travel," he added, referring to bridges for the northbound and southbound lanes.
MassDOT spokesman Patrick Marvin said traffic on I-495 northbound in Haverhill was shifted from the existing bridge onto the new median road during overnight work Monday into Tuesday morning of this week.
He said following that traffic shift, the long-existing northbound bridge would be closed to traffic permanently in preparation for demolition.
Marvin said once the traffic shift was in place, three northbound travel lanes will be provided over the new northbound bridge and through the work zone.
He said the configuration will maintain the current lane widths of 11 feet. All entrance and exit ramps will remain open. However, the Exit 49 northbound off-ramp will be realigned in the area coming off the new bridge.
Signs, traffic control devices and police details will guide drivers through the work zone, officials said. They said all work is weather dependent and subject to change without notice.
Marvin said that once the new northbound bridge is opened, the same process will happen on the southbound side, with traffic shifted from the long-existing bridge to the median bridge. That will allow demolition of the southbound side of the existing bridge and construction of a replacement.
For more information on the project, visit the website at www.mass.gov/i495haverhillbridge.
For more information on traffic conditions travelers are encouraged to:
* Dial 511 and select a route to hear real-time conditions.
* Visit www.mass511.com, a website which provides real-time traffic and incident advisory information, and allows users to subscribe to text and email alerts for traffic conditions.
* Follow MassDOT on Twitter @MassDOT to receive regular updates on road and traffic conditions.
* Download MassDOT’s GoTime mobile app and view real-time traffic conditions before setting out on the road.
The replacement schedule is as follows:
* Stage 1: Northbound median bridge construction: September 2018 to September 2019
* Stage 2: Demolition of longtime northbound bridge and construction of replacement bridge: September 2019 to August 2020
* Stage 3: Southbound traffic shifted to median bridge: August 2020. Demolition of longtime southbound bridge and reconstruction of replacement bridge: August 2020 to September 2021
* Stage 4: Median lane restored to become part of permanent replacement bridge: September 2021 to June 2022
* Completion of total project: June 2022