MEDFORD — Traffic flowed smoothly on Interstate 93 northbound this morning after repairs were completed to a large hole and all four lanes were reopened, said Adam Hurtubise, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation.
“Our crews worked all night and all day yesterday to repair [the pothole],” he said.
All four lanes opened at about 5 a.m., Hurtubise said. The emergency repairs to the hole on Wednesday had forced the closure of three of the four lanes and snarled traffic for miles.
“It created this nightmare commute,’’ Luisa Paiewonsky, highway administrator for the state Department of Transportation, told reporters Wednesday morning while standing below the faulty I-93 bridge as light streamed through a wide-open hole. The highway, the main north-south artery through Greater Boston, normally carries 100,000 northbound vehicles every weekday.
Another hole had snarled traffic on Tuesday. Officials said the two holes that opened 25 feet apart were not the typical spring potholes bemoaned by New England drivers, but were caused by something far more serious: the decay of concrete and steel attributed to years of postponed maintenance.
“It’s like when your neighbor’s house needs painting and your neighbor doesn’t paint it for 10 years, so instead of it needing painting now, the siding has rotted out,’’ said Frank Tramontozzi, chief engineer for the Department of Transportation.
The two holes occurred on a section of interstate being repaved in a three-year, $16 million project to resurface I-93 and its on- and offramps in Somerville and Medford. The jack-hammering and milling to remove the surface layers of asphalt and the rumbling of cars and trucks over the construction-scarred roadway proved too much for the concrete and steel that undergird the asphalt on an elevated section of interstate that runs above Valley Street in Medford.
On Tuesday afternoon, crumbling concrete and rusting metal caused a gash to open between exits 32 and 33 in Medford, forcing the state to close two of the four northbound lanes during the evening rush.
At about 7 a.m. Wednesday, workers had scarcely finished patching the road surface and reinforcing the bridge from below when the second hole opened a few car lengths north.
Just as they did with the first hole, workers initially widened this gash from a few feet across to a 7-by-25-foot rectangle to extract more damaged concrete and steel before patching it. The hole and the accompanying construction work required the closing of lanes, causing the massive traffic jam.
Transportation officials urged drivers to seek alternate roads, directing them to Route 128, the Massachusetts Turnpike, the Tobin Bridge, and local roads, or to take public transportation instead. The MBTA added extra trains on the Orange Line.
“If you receive this e-mail before your drive home, please take another route (for your sake and everyone else’s),’’ the city of Somerville said in an e-mail to residents, one of several ways in which officials and commuters used technology to spread the word about the highway problem.
“Omg late to work bc been sitting in traffic for 50 min & counting on I93, what is going on?!’’ LiLiii89 wrote on Twitter, part of a string of posts that chronicled the unfolding jam.
“Passed the hole going S on I93,’’ intertwinemedia advised. “DO NOT get on N I93 Boston!!’’
Drivers who got stuck in traffic Tuesday evening were stunned to encounter another horrific jam again Wednesday. And those who do not drive the route every day found basic efforts to get around frustrated.
“I was stuck in traffic coming from Somerville, going to a job interview in N.H.,’’ Ray Estrella, 44, said in an e-mail. “My cellphone died, and I got to the interview a 1/2 hour late, without being able to call. Not a good day.’’
Traffic was so bad that Governor Deval Patrick suggested, tongue slightly in cheek, that some people delay trying to get out of the city.
“There’s opening night for Shakespeare on the Common tonight, so maybe think about coming out there with me and enjoying the performance, and going back a little later,’’ Patrick said.
The stretch of I-93 through Medford and Somerville is being repaved for the first time in 15 years, even though it should be repaved every 10 years, according to Paiewonsky. And the steel beams and steel-reinforced concrete layers beneath the pavement have not been repaired since that portion of the interstate was built in 1959 and 1960, she said.
The engineers who designed the bridges — for traffic loads significantly lighter than today’s — expected that the structural elements would last about half a century, maybe longer. But a lack of maintenance has ensured their demise, transportation officials said.
Patrick and the Legislature have more than doubled road and bridge spending in the last three years, from $515 million in 2007 to $1.1 billion this year, including state and federal funds, to pick away at the vast backlog of needed repairs, officials said.
The state had contracted only the surface repaving of the Somerville-Medford stretch and had intended to postpone structural work on the bridges. But stripping the asphalt exposed the serious need of the 14 bridge decks, seven in each direction, that support I-93 in those two cities, Paiewonsky said.
The deck repairs may cost $50 million or more, Paiewonsky said, and the state now hopes to replace them all in the coming year. For the short term, the temporarily patched concrete will be covered with a thin asphalt layer.
“We don’t want to have a giant investment go to waste, but, in the meantime, we need to hold the bridge together . . . and improve the riding surface until we can replace those decks,’’ said Paiewonsky.
The traffic jam immediately became an issue in the race for governor.
Patrick, running for reelection, said the highway holes were caused by a lack of statewide road and bridge investment that he attributed to a Big Dig financing plan that his Republican opponent, Charles D. Baker, helped write as the state’s budget chief in the mid-1990s.
“We have all these structurally deficient bridges and this extraordinary backlog of deferred maintenance because of the way we financed the Big Dig and how it starved infrastructure all across the Commonwealth,’’ Patrick said, without mentioning Baker by name. “We’re trying to catch up, and we’re making good progress.’’
Baker’s campaign said Patrick was using his predecessors as a scapegoat.
“When is Deval Patrick going to take responsibility for anything?’’ said Amy Goodrich, a Baker spokeswoman. “The next thing you know, he’s going to be blaming Charlie Baker for raising taxes eight times during the last four years.’’
Globe correspondent Jeff Fish contributed to this report.
On the beat
Columnist Shirley Leung says Boston mayor-elect Martin J. Walsh should focus on middle-class housing. Read more