BARRE — A massive ledge removal project that will close the northbound off ramp at Exit 6 for six weeks this summer will force roughly 1,400 vehicles a day to find different ways to get where they are going.
The project won’t be put out to bid for another two weeks and the work isn’t expected to begin before June 1, but representatives of the state Agency of Transportation are busy spreading the word about what to expect when it does.
Hoping to demystify the project and flag concerns that should be brought to the attention of prospective contractors VTrans representatives are in the midst of holding informational meetings in each of the four affected communities.
After meeting with select boards in Williamstown and Barre Town last month, Bruce Martin, who is managing the project for VTrans, and Natalie Boyle, who is be handling public outreach both before and during the work, briefed city councilors in Barre about what they should expect the summer and why.
The next stop is Berlin where they will attend a similar session scheduled in conjunction with next Thursday’s Select Board meeting.
“We’re doing the best we can to make this as painless as possible,” Boyle told councilors Tuesday night.
Concerns have predictably varied from one community to the next, though the need for the project can be traced to a July 2012 “rockfall” that spilled large pieces of fractured ledge along a 300-foot section of the northbound lane of I-89 near Exit 6.
Fortunately, Martin said, no one was injured in the rockfall which occurred in the middle of a summer afternoon. He said the outcome might have been different had it occurred at night when boulders in the road would have been harder to see, or in the winter when approaching motorists might have found stopping more difficult.
It’s why, Martin said, the project has been in the works since 2013 and is scheduled to be completed this summer.
At a minimum that will mean increased truck traffic in Barre, because Exit 5 in Williamstown isn’t considered a suitable option for large vehicles and northbound trucks won’t be able to get off Exit 6 while the work is underway.
Though Boyle said officials in Williamstown are worried some truck drivers will ignore that warning, the expectation is most will use Exit 7 in Berlin and the vast majority of them will travel down Route 62 to Barre and then double back on North Main Street to get where they were going in Barre Town.
Of the 1,400 vehicles a day that use the northbound off ramp at Exit 6, Martin said an average of 79 are tractor-trailer trucks and another 200 are box trucks.
The designated detour, which must rely solely on state routes, should bring them through Barre along with at least some of more than 1,100 other vehicles that would have the option use the Exit 5 off ramp in Williamstown. Those who choose that route would head down Route 64 and then take Route 14 to South Barre.
Route 63 – known locally as the “South Barre access road” – won’t be an option for much of the summer because Martin said it will be blocked with rock blasted off a 500-foot stretch of the ledge located along the off ramp.
Councilors expressed concerns ranging from noise the trucks might generate to the possibility some motorists who use the Exit 7 detour will bypass North Main Street and ignore the speed limit on Summer Street.
Those concerns was noted, as was Mayor Lucas Herring’s worry that truck drivers who try to use the detour when North Main Street is closed for the Barre Heritage Festival in July won’t have a safe way to get through the city.
Martin said that conflict could likely be accommodated by coordinating with the contractor. He noted the successful bidder will be required to re-open the northbound off ramp at Exit 6 for 72 hours staring the day before Independence Day in July.
According to Martin, a range of options for stabilizing a 1,400 foot long section of ledge were evaluated before the favored proposal – blasting and removing portions of the ledge, as well as trees and other vegetation – was selected. He said removing the rock is the surest way to deal with a section of ledge that was cut in a way where future rockfalls are expected and will reach the highway if they happen.
Though 900 feet of the ledge that has been flagged for removal is located along the interstate, Martin said the remaining 500 feet is along the off-ramp. That portion of the work is expected to take six weeks, will require the use of “rolling road blocks” to slow or stop traffic immediately before and after blasting.
With limited exceptions the southbound off ramp and both Exit 6 on ramps will not be affected by the project.
Next week’s hearing in Berlin is set for 7 p.m. at the municipal office building on Shed Road.
Once a contractor has been selected and the construction schedule is fixed, Boyle said an additional public informational meeting will be held. That, she said, would likely occur about two weeks before work starts.
Based on preliminary discussions, Martin said the project, which will involve the removal of roughly 43,000 cubic yards of material, is expected to start in mid-June.