Interstate 89 paving project gets underway

Work expected to continue until fall

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

The pain of traffic congestion over the next few months will result in the gain of a smoother ride on Interstate 89 by this fall.

Paving on I-89 in and around Williston began this week. The project involves grinding down the rough asphalt and repaving the 16-mile stretch of the interstate’s southbound side between South Burlington and Bolton. The work also includes widening the ramp at exit 12 in Williston.

Traffic tie-ups can be expected, said a spokeswoman for Frank W. Whitcomb Construction Corp., the project’s contractor. With work confined to non-commute hours, however, the congestion might not be as bad as motorists fear.

“I think for the most part they will do the work at night,” said Stephanie Barrett, a public relations representative contracted by Whitcomb Construction. “But vehicles traveling through the construction area will be subject to delays.”

Barrett declined to advise motorists on alternate routes, saying that detours can lead to problems on other roads. Initially, she said, most of the work will take place between 7 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Whitcomb Construction was the low bidder on the $4.5 million project. The contractor is working under several conditions imposed by the Vermont Agency of Transportation designed to minimize snarls by limiting the hours that roadwork can take place and imposing deadlines.

The contractor is not allowed to work on the portion of the project between exit 13 in South Burlington and exit 12 in Williston during commute hours. Whitcomb Construction faces a 30-day deadline to finish that phase, backed by financial incentives. The state will award a $5,000 bonus for each day the project is finished early or levy a $5,000 penalty for each day the work continues beyond the deadline.

The contractor plans to finish most of the work between exits 12 and 13 first before doing the repaving south of Williston, Barrett said.

Two lanes of travel must remain clear on the portion of the project between South Burlington and Williston during rush hours, 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and again between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. The requirements are somewhat less stringent south of Williston, with both lanes mandated to remain open from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.

At other times, one lane will be closed. The ramp work will take place largely off the traveled portion of the road, though the existing two lanes at exit 12 will be narrowed slightly for the project’s duration.

On Monday night, crews began the process of grinding down the existing pavement at exit 12 and the main highway. Barriers were erected Tuesday on the exit 12 ramp so that workers could begin constructing the additional lane.

Just when the actual paving will start depends on the weather, Barrett said. If rain doesn’t interrupt the work, she said, paving could start on Sunday.

Weather could also affect when the work begins south of Williston. Barrett said workers could begin grinding the existing pavement on that part of the project in two or three weeks.

The incentive/penalty clause includes paving the interstate itself as well as adding the left turn lane on the southbound Williston off-ramp. The clause is designed to minimize the amount of time motorists have to deal with the traffic congestion the project could bring.

“We’re hoping we only have to live with it for a maximum of 30 days,” said Michael Pologruto of the Vermont Agency of Transportation.

The incentive clause does not apply to paving work south of exit 12. That part of the project must be completed by Oct. 15. The contractor will pay a $3,500-a-day penalty if it does not meet that deadline, but there is no bonus for competing it sooner.

The project has two goals. The first is to fix Interstate 89’s cracked and potholed pavement. The type of asphalt used when the stretch was last paved in the 1990s was a new blend designed to drain better. But the state Agency of Transportation discovered that the formulation, which was also used on a number of other highways, did not stand up to Vermont’s harsh winters and failed far sooner than the expected 15- to 20-year lifespan.

The second reason for the work is to fix a traffic hazard at exit 12. Many motorists have complained that vehicles back up on the ramp and onto the main highway.