Razing the tollbooths at Exit 1: Demolition to be '24/7 accelerated project'


LENOX — Under an "accelerated, very aggressive" timetable set by the state Department of Transportation, the first major phase of Massachusetts Turnpike toll plaza demolition is targeted for completion on Nov. 22, just ahead of the heavily traveled Thanksgiving holiday.

J.H. Maxymillian of Pittsfield will be working 24/7 at the West Stockbridge and Lee toll plazas, beginning at 10 p.m. Oct. 28. That's the precise moment when overhead electronic toll collections are activated, phasing out all tollbooths along the interstate.

The company was the successful low bidder among five competitors with a $16 million contract from the MassDOT Highway Division.

Detailed plans for the Berkshire section of the massive, nearly $163 million statewide project were unveiled during a public meeting Tuesday night at MassDOT's District 1 headquarters in Lenox.

There are 16 MassPike interchanges; Tuesday's presentation focused on toll Plaza 1 in West Stockbridge, the entry point for out-of-state motorists eastbound, and Plaza 2 in Lee, used by most Berkshire residents to enter and exit I-90.

Designer Tom Roach of AECOM, the international engineering firm based in Los Angeles, offered a long punch list for demolition and removal — the overhead canopies, access stairs, removal of tollbooths housing ticket-takers in cash lanes as well as E-ZPass lanes, support buildings and structural slabs and tunnels that have allowed toll collectors to access the booths.

Roach pointed to the next stages: "Additional roadway work since, this is as much a roadway-improvement project as it is a toll-demolition project. A lot of the infrastructure needs to be improved to support travel moving at a higher rate of speed."

During Stage 1, from Oct. 28 to Nov. 22, eastbound and westbound traffic will be shifted to wide outside lanes so the middle of the plazas housing the center tollbooths can be removed first.

Stage 2, dubbed the "winter condition" by MassDOT, would begin after Nov. 22, with "all the infrastructure out of the way so you have free, unimpeded travel through the toll plaza area," Roach said.

He predicted that J.H. Maxymillian could finish even before the Nov. 22 "incentive date" set by the state, since there's a $23,000 a day bonus (up to 15 days) for beating the deadline. On the other hand, there's a daily penalty of $23,000 with no limit for the contractor if the work is not completed by the target.

The scheduled completion date for the entire project is Oct. 27, 2017, allowing "full beneficial use of the facility, most of the work that will be seen by the public will be completed," Roach said.

For Maxymillian, there's also a $23,000 daily incentive to beat that final deadline, with a cap of $690,000 or 30 days, as well as the $23,000 daily "disincentive" penalty, with no limit, if the project fails to meet the target.

A command center will be staffed by MassDOT with a state police coordinator "to allow the contractor to receive the support they need to make this 24/7 accelerated project a success," said Roach. Various sheriff's offices as well as local police and fire agencies will assist, he added.

During construction between Oct. 28 to Nov. 22, traffic passing through Toll Plaza 1 in West Stockbridge will be reduced from the current five lanes — two for E-ZPass and three cash — to two non-stop lanes in each direction, accommodating up to 1,200 vehicles during a typical afternoon peak hour westbound on an average day.

After Nov. 22, despite continuing construction activity, the interchange will be able to handle even more traffic since the booths will have been removed.

At Plaza 2 in Lee, which now has three lanes in each direction (two cash, one E-ZPass), traffic will be funneled into one non-stop lane in each direction as construction activity begins. That would still allow 660 cars per hour during peak afternoon traffic exiting the interstate, Roach said.

The one-lane scenario continues Nov. 22, but it returns to two lanes after the final project completing date of Oct. 27, 2017.

The first week of construction after Oct. 28 includes toll-booth demolition, followed by excavation and grading in the second week, said Gary Polumbo, vice president of construction and project superintendent for Maxymillian. Repaving is slated for the third week, leading up to the Nov. 22 deadline.

The first priority will be to remove tunnel and canopy hazardous materials, including asbestos, on Oct. 30, Polumbo said. The canopies will be removed Oct. 31. Thereafter, demolition debris will be removed by truck as work is performed, with minimal stockpiling of material.

"Obviously, demolition and construction means noise," he said. "There will be noise-level monitoring throughout, and noise-mitigation measures will be applied. We'll follow industry parameters for nighttime operations."

During the winter, major roadway reconstruction work is planned for Plaza 1 during normal daytime work hours, Roach said, in order to reconfigure the interchange for free-flow high-speed travel. A third lane will be added for entrance and exit to the turnpike.

West Stockbridge Select Board Chairman Curt Wilton, citing an "astronomical amount of excavation, structural steel, concrete," sought assurances that truck traffic would not overwhelm Main Street.

Polumbo responded that the plan is to remove the excavated material by using the turnpike, although there's a possibility of trucking it off Exit 2 and north on Route 7 to Maxymillian's home base in Pittsfield. Another destination could be a facility in Springfield.

"It's much more economical for us to keep it on the turnpike if that's possible," he said, "so there's no real incentive for us to go through downtown West Stockbridge."

Wilton voiced support, saying "I'm very comfortable with the plan and I wish you well."

At Plaza 2 in Lee, during stage 1 of construction, "there's quite a bit of ramp activity in a very short, very tight space, including tunnel removal," Roach said.

Additional work, including removal of the remaining toll plaza, including the support building, is set for the winter season, to be followed by major road reconstruction starting in the spring.

Outlining the benefits of the new All-Electronic Tolling system, with 13 overhead gantries ready to "go live" on Oct. 28, District 1 Highway Director Francisca Heming cited reduced congestion at toll booth plazas, computed by the state as "over 800 hours of vehicle-delay savings per day."

She also pointed to "great environmental benefits" — reduced greenhouse gas emissions — resulting from the elimination of idling in toll plaza backups as well as "amazing" safety improvements.

"There has to be some level of patience," Roach stressed, conceding some delays are inevitable during construction.

"Keep your full attention when driving through the work zone," he said. "This is not the time to talk on your cellphone or to change the radio station."

"This is a very aggressive schedule, a lot of activity," Roach told the audience of about 50 town officials and community members, especially during the three weeks leading up to the Nov. 22 deadline when work will be non-stop, around the clock.

After Nov. 22, "there will be a lull," Polumbo said. He expects work to resume during daytime hours, although the contract with MassDOT permits 24-hour work, if and when needed.

"As of right now, those aren't our intentions," he added.

Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.

Turnpike timeline . . .

Here is the schedule for demolition and reconstruction of Toll Plaza 1 in West Stockbridge and Plaza 2 in Lee:

Friday, Oct. 28, 10 p.m.: All-Electronic Tolling goes "live" using overhead gantries along the Massachusetts Turnpike.

Saturday, Oct. 29, 5 a.m.: J.H. Maxymillian begins 24/7 demolition and reconstruction. Vehicles will be channeled into two lanes, each direction (West Stockbridge) and one lane each direction (Lee) with signs, barrels and barriers.

Oct. 29-Nov. 22: During Stage 1, traffic uses lanes on the outside portions of the toll plazas while the interior of the plazas is demolished.

Nov. 22-Oct. 27, 2017: Stage 2 and beyond, vehicles use newly-reconstructed roadway alignment in the center of the plaza while booths, canopies and tunnels on the outer portion are demolished. Existing parking lots and parking access drives are removed. Then the roadway is reconstructed and realigned to accommodate higher-speed travel.

Sources: Massachusetts Department of Transportation; AECOM engineering firm; J.H. Maxymillian

At a glance . . .

Total cost, Boston to N.Y. border: $162,820,000

Total cost, District 1 (Berkshires): $20,010,000

Construction contract: J.H. Maxymillian: $16,000,500

Incentives to meet deadlines: $69,000

Traffic, police: $570,000

Contingency (overruns): $2,400,000

Source: Massachusetts Department of Transportation (Highway Division)


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