Highway Divison Massachusetts Department of transporatation
Whittier Bridge/I-95 Improvement Project

Design & Construction

Construction Updates

The schedule for this major infrastructure project is subject to change without notice. All lane restrictions and closures, and construction activities are weather dependent. As is typical with most large construction projects, work may sometimes take place without prior notice.

The following construction activities on the Whittier Bridge are planned through Summer 2016:

  • Continue construction for new southbound span, including:
    • Construct back wall at north abutment
    • Construct drainage and foundation for south abutment (includes pile driving)
    • Relocate temporary towers in the Merrimack River and gantry crane system
    • Construct three piers
  • Continue demolition of old southbound span, including:
    • Remove piers and abutments

Additional ongoing construction activities will be weather dependent:

  • Continue construction of the new I-95 South bridge over Evans Place/Main Street
  • Mill and install a new layer of pavement on I-95 North and South
  • Reconstruct I-95 South bridge over Route 110

Demolition of Old Whittier Bridge Continues This Summer

After I-95 north and southbound traffic was shifted to the new Whittier Bridge, MassDOT began demolishing the old Whittier Bridge in December 2015. The last segment of steel was removed on June 15, 2016. Pier 1 and the south abutment of the old Whittier Bridge have been completely removed. Demolition of the north abutment will begin in late June and continue through July. The contractor is working two shifts Mondays through Saturdays, weather permitting. After the old bridge is demolished, the new span will be constructed in its place and southbound traffic will be shifted to it in late summer or early fall 2017.

Construction and Traffic Impacts

MassDOT understands the importance of minimizing construction impacts. Traffic management plans were developed in close consultation with local officials to reduce impacts to local roads resulting from the construction. The traffic management and sequencing plans account for peak travel times for this area, especially summer weekends. The contractor will maintain three lanes of traffic on I-95 in the peak commuting directions during peak travel periods. There are occasional exceptions for lane shifts and short duration work zones that can be accommodated during off-peak traffic hours, where lane reductions may be implemented.

MassDOT announces all lane closures and other significant traffic impacts on this website and through project update emails. Additionally, signage on I-95 encourages through traffic to stay on the highway. Signal timing on local roads may be adjusted, if necessary. Traffic will be monitored on local roadways to lessen impacts on the communities and local businesses. Signal timing will be modified to keep traffic moving on local streets as well. The D/B team will maintain the U.S. Coast Guard channel for boaters and a Notice to Boaters is published at the start of each season with radio hailing information to reach local harbormasters. The notice is also distributed to local marine industry business, including marinas and launch sites.

Design/Build (D/B)

In D/B, the final design is completed in packages that are released for construction upon review and approval by MassDOT. This process allows construction to begin almost immediately on critical elements of the project. The construction is being staged from I-95 rather than from the water using barges as presented in the Base Technical Concept that was developed during preliminary design. This avoids the risks associated with barge-mounted cranes, improves construction efficiency, and minimizes impacts to the active U.S. Coast Guard channels.

Construction of the new Whittier Bridge is occurring in phases. Traffic is being maintained on the existing bridge while the new northbound structure is constructed. All traffic will shift to the new structure for demolition of the entire existing bridge. The new southbound structure will be constructed in its place and southbound traffic will be shifted to it. To learn more about the traffic management stages during construction, please refer to the Traffic Management Graphic for details.

Previously, MassDOT’s design consultant conducted an alternatives evaluation that looked at a number of potential options to identify a recommended preferred alternative. The preferred alternative bridge type had the fewest environmental impacts and met the goals and objectives of the project. MassDOT’s Highway Division gathered input from the public during the Draft and Final Environmental Impact Report processes, and ultimately selected a network tied arch structure, which resembles the existing Whittier Bridge. MassDOT's robust public involvement program during preliminary design included input from the public and the Whittier Working Group (WWG) on key elements, such as the bridge design and aesthetics such as paint color, and elements of the shared-use path.

Shared-Use Path

MassDOT is constructing the first shared-use path along a Massachusetts interstate as part of the project. The agency carefully evaluated the impacts of potential alternatives along the corridor on existing and proposed bicycle and pedestrian pathways adjacent to the highway and bridge rights-of-way. A shared-use path, with pedestrian overlooks across the Merrimack River, will be constructed on the northbound side of the Whittier Bridge to facilitate connections to nearby trails and attractions. MassDOT is working with stakeholder groups to ensure that the project does not negatively impact current trails, or prohibit the communities' plans for implementing future connections.

Northbound traffic on the current Whittier Bridge
Northbound traffic on the Whittier Bridge. Planned improvements call for a fourth travel lane in each direction as well as the addition of a high speed shoulder and breakdown lane.

Innovative Construction Methods

MassDOT employs innovative construction methods when possible to expedite project schedules, ensure high quality results and long lasting infrastructure, and reduce maintenance costs. One such technique for the Whittier Bridge/I-95 project is the use of blocks made of Expanded Polystyrene (or EPS) that replace soil as fill material. The blocks are being used for the base of the northbound breakdown lane, the right northbound travel lane between the Whittier Bridge and Route 110, and the shared-use path. Historically, the area was used for agriculture, and the underlying soil is made up of organic materials and clay, making it weak and unsuitable for supporting the gravel, concrete, and asphalt that will be used for the roadway and path. EPS is a very lightweight material, about one to two percent of the weight of soil, yet sufficiently stiff to support the weight of the roadway and vehicles traveling on it.

Thanks to their light weight, these blocks won't compress the weak soil below and settle over time. If the blocks were not used, the contractor would have to dig down 30 feet to replace the unsuitable soils or spend time compacting them, and install a drainage system as well, before widening the highway. The use of EPS results in significant construction advantages in both time and cost savings. EPS is extremely durable in the ground with an indefinite service life. This is one of many innovative measures MassDOT is using on the project.

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