The $123 million Manchester-Boston Regional Airport access road project is now under way and traffic changes are coming for travelers on F.E. Everett Turnpike in Bedford.
The access road, a 1.5-mile connector highway that will link the airport with the turnpike, started in the spring.
Construction workers are now beginning to tunnel under the turnpike in Bedford.
Audley Construction, a Bow-based contractor, is handling a $20 million contract to burrow a tunnel under the turnpike, south of the Bedford tolls, and loop it into a cloverleaf interchange.
State Department of Transportation project manager Alex Vogt said the work crew is already digging on the eastern side of the turnpike and is preparing to shift turnpike traffic to the west.
The workers will add a new, permanent tollbooth in the coming months to accommodate the shift in traffic, he said.
"We are going to maintain as many lanes as we have out there today," Vogt said. "There is just going to be little shift that we have to do."
The tunnel project is one of two major access road projects initiated this year.
Beck and Bellucci, a Franklin contractor, is constructing a $30 million bridge spanning the Merrimack River.
The two projects are expected to be completed within two to three years.
The DOT will put six more contracts out to bid in the next few years before the $123 million project is completed.
The most significant traffic impact will come in 2009 and 2010 when D.W. Highway in Bedford is widened.
While the road is being built to move traffic smoothly in and out of the airport, officials anticipate it will also produce economic development in Londonderry, Bedford and Merrimack.
Developers have been approaching the state with queries, and realtor Cushman and Wakefield is advertising a 27-acre property in Bedford immediately adjacent to the access road for $3 million.
There is nearly 1,000 acres of forested land in Londonderry that is available for development. The town has adopted flexible zoning ordinances to enable that development to happen, said Andre Garron, director of economic development for Londonderry.
"This project will likely lead to development sooner than it would happen normally," Vogt said. "I think it will be substantial."
Bedford town councilor Michael Scanlon said the access road will give his town a tremendous economic boost, and Merrimack town manager Keith Hickey said it would be a "significant economic driver."
Hickey said he expected to see more hotels and conference centers.
Marriott hotels are planning an eight-story expansion in Merrimack and town planners could approve the project next month.
Scott Somerville, president of Focus Lodging Group, the Ohio-based investment company that is developing the Marriott, said the access road was a reason for picking Merrimack.