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Amesbury, Whittier Bridge White Blocks, November 2014If you’ve traveled along I-95 in Amesbury lately, you’re probably wondering about those unusual looking white blocks along the highway.

The blocks are made of Expanded Polystyrene (or EPS), and are a creative solution to a challenge on the Whittier Bridge/I-95 Improvement Project. The blocks are replacing soil as a fill material 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 weren’t doing their job, the contractor would have to dig down 30 feet to replace the unsuitable soils or spend time compacting them with a high berm and install a drainage system as well, before widening the highway.

Using 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. For more information about the project and to stay up with the latest news, check out the Whittier Bridge/I-95 Improvement Project website.

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