Work to start in July, state official says
By Greg Elias
Roadwork that will smooth the rough ride on Interstate 89 and ease congestion at exit 12 begins this summer.
The paving project includes 16 miles on the southbound side of I-89 between Bolton and South Burlington. The exit 12 work involves lengthening the deceleration lane and adding a lane to the southbound off-ramp that leads to Vermont Route 2A.
Motorists who suffer the bruising ride while dodging ruts and potholes during their daily commute say they are eager to see the repaving completed.
“It’s like a roller coaster ride,” said Bolton resident Kelly O’Brien, who commutes on Interstate 89 between Richmond and Williston to her job as a Vermont State Police dispatcher.
The stretch of Interstate 89 was last paved less then a decade ago, said Mike Hedges, paving program manager for the Vermont Agency of Transportation. A type of asphalt designed to reduce road spray and provide better traction was used.
But the state found that the pavement, which was supposed to last for 15-20 years, has a far shorter lifespan.
“It had many useful benefits,” Hedges said. “But we found that in modern applications it has a 9- to 10-year lifespan. Then it fails dramatically.”
Indeed, the quality of the southbound drive between Williston and Richmond has deteriorated rapidly over the past year. Shallow but wide potholes pockmark the stretch between Williston and Richmond. The segment between the Williston and Shelburne Road exits also has flaws.
Both stretches are marked by grooves and washboard pavement. Vehicles occasionally kick up pieces of loose asphalt, a distraction for drivers and a danger to windshields.
Williston resident Phyllis Etienne, who sometimes drives on Interstate 89 to reach Burlington, said she has seen the rapid deterioration.
“It’s definitely noticeable,” she said. “I find myself consciously steering from one lane to another to avoid it.”
Hedges, while acknowledging that potholes could present safety issues for motorists traveling at 65 mph, said many other roads are worse. “They are not as bad as the potholes we have elsewhere,” he said.
The limited lifespan of asphalt on Interstate 89 has been a problem since the state started using the new type of pavement in the 1990s. Last year, the state had to repave a stretch of I-89 between exits 8 and 10.
Was it a mistake to use the new type of paving, which allows water to drain better but apparently doesn’t hold up in Vermont’s rugged climate?
“When we planned it, we felt it was the best available product,” Hedges said. “That’s why we put it on the interstate. We anticipated it would last longer — 15-20 years — than it did.”
About 150 miles of interstate in Vermont have been paved using the asphalt. Hedges said much of it will need to be repaved in coming years.
The work of the exit 12 off-ramp is designed to reduce traffic backups, which sporadically cause vehicles to spill out onto the traveled portion of the highway. Residents and town officials have complained that the situation is a serious hazard, as vehicles traveling at 65 mph bear down on the line of stopped cars.
The state originally planned to do the ramp work in 2006. But that timetable was accelerated after town officials and resident complained that the traffic backups amounted to an emergency safety issue and the state concluded it would make sense to combine the paving and ramp projects.
A second left-turn lane will be added to the ramp to accommodate the majority of the traffic that heads north on Route 2A. The deceleration lane leading up to the ramp will be lengthened, and the timing of traffic signals may be adjusted, Hedges said.
The ramp project will cost an estimated $500,000, Hedges said. The interstate paving will cost roughly $4 million. Federal funding will pay 90 percent of the cost of both projects.
The repaving work will start just north of the 189 interchange (where motorists exit to reach Shelburne Road) and continue south to Bolton. The state will advertise the projects in May, with bidding taking place the following month. Hedges said both the repaving and ramp work would likely begin in July. The projects are expected to take one construction season, which runs through October.
No paving will take place on the northbound side of I-89. Hedges said a northbound stretch between Richmond and Bolton was repaved two years ago.
Motorists will have to deal with congestion as a result of the work, but Hedges said the state will take steps to minimize problems. He said no paving on Interstate 89 will take place during rush hours — 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Work will largely take place off the side of the exit 12 ramp, so Hedges does not foresee major traffic issues with that project.
“I think (the workers) will be somewhat out of the way of traffic,” he said. “But there will be some disruption anyway.”