If you were traveling north on the Spaulding Turnpike on Jan. 27, traffic slowed just after Exit 1, even before the sign that warned of a work zone ahead.
And for the next 2.5 miles, the traffic crawled — past the exit for Wal-Mart, past the Newington exit, and over the Little Bay Bridge where crews had shut down one lane to apply cold patch to some of the developing potholes.
It took about 30 minutes to cover the short distance — and it wasn’t even rush hour. It was about noon and the traffic on that Wednesday had built up so quickly and backed up so thickly behind the single lane over the bridge that it took that much time to cover the distance.
A half hour to go two and a half miles.
Which begs the question: What will happen when the state embarks on the huge project starting this spring to widen sections of the Spaulding Turnpike and widen the bridges?
If it’s bad when a pothole patching crew is at work at noontime, what it going to be like during the morning and evening commutes during a full-scale reconstruction?
Nightmare for commuters wouldn’t begin to describe it.
But the state is preparing to mitigate traffic concerns through a variety of means, including the encouragement of bus use and carpooling, plus a desire to keep two lanes of traffic moving in both directions at all times.
The Little Bay Bridges project — estimated at about $203 million — will completely re-do a 3.5-mile north and south stretch of the Spaulding Turnpike extending from the Gosling Road/Pease Boulevard Interchange (Exit 1) in the Town of Newington, across the Little Bay Bridges, to a point just south of the existing toll plaza in Dover.
The highway and bridges will be widened from two to four lanes and exits will be reconfigured.
According to final environmental impact statement: “With the Little Bay Bridges currently carrying in excess of 70,000 vehicles per day, many of the freeway segments and interchanges along the highway experience volume demands that exceed the available capacity of the roadway system. Traffic forecasts for the year 2025 project traffic to increase from its current level to approximately 94,600 vehicles per day.”
The impact statement notes that during weekday peak commuter hours — 7 to 8 a.m. and 5 to 6 p.m. — “area motorists traveling along the Spaulding Turnpike currently experience traffic congestion and substantial delay.”
In response to this Examiner’s email inquiry about the traffic concerns once the construction starts, Christopher M. Waszczuk, administrator of the New Hampshire Bureau of Turnpikes, said his department “is committed to maintain two lanes in each direction during the daytime hours for the duration of construction.”
Some lane closures might be necessary but he said they would be limited to night hours and “be precluded during the core hours of the day.”
Said Waszczuk: “The Department plans to implement ‘smart work zone’ technology and utilize the existing permanent message boards supplemented with portable message boards to provide motorists real time traffic information. The final design is evolving and construction plans and documents being developed for construction of the sister Little Bay Bridge likely beginning this summer.
“There also are plans to increase bus service and encourage carpooling, as well as construct a park’n’ride in Rochester and Lee, all in an effort to reduce the travel demand on the corridor. As more information regarding the construction and other facets of the project become available, we will post them on the website.”
The website is located at http://www.newington-dover.com/.
Related: Slideshow of elements of Little Bay Bridges Project