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    Officials urging public to avoid Mass. Pike — or prepare for severe congestion

    Construction crews prepared last week to work on the Commonwealth Avenue Bridge.
    David L. Ryan/Globe Staff
    Construction crews prepared last week to work on the Commonwealth Avenue Bridge.

    Transportation officials are urging the public to avoid driving on the Massachusetts Turnpike on Monday — or expect severe congestion and a long, slow commute.

    Construction to replace the westbound side on the Commonwealth Avenue Bridge will face a key test — its first work week. Starting Monday, all phases of construction that will affect traffic will be in place, according to a Sunday statement from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation.

    The Pike will be reduced from eight to four lanes during peak travel hours, and the severity of potential delays depends on people’s travel decisions, according to state Highway Administrator Jonathan Gulliver.

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    So far, construction is running right on schedule, Gulliver said. Crews completed their demolition work over the weekend, using excavators to remove concrete and steel girders.

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    Traffic was light Sunday, and there were no major setbacks. Progress is on par with that of last year, which went notably smoothly.

    Transportation officials are heading into the week with cautious optimism.

    “We were worried we’d be a victim of our own success,” Gulliver said, in reference to last summer’s construction on the eastbound side of the bridge.

    Gulliver said he fears that people may underestimate how congestion-prone the Pike will be at half capacity. Drivers may assume that everyone else is staying home, and the exact opposite could play out.

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    Monday’s commute could indicate how the next few weeks will progress, according to Gulliver.

    “The question is really going to be about people who usually commute on the Pike,” Gulliver said.

    The Pike will be open to two lanes in each direction during peak travel times, starting at 5 a.m. Monday, Gulliver said. During non-peak travel times, like midday hours and weekends, it will be reduced to three lanes.

    Crews on Sunday night are removing protective shielding and clearing the railbeds for Amtrak and commuter rail trains to resume Monday morning.

    In Sunday’s statement, MassDOT urged commuters to opt for an alternative route.

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    “We strongly urge the public to avoid this area, use public transit if possible, take advantage of extra service added on the MBTA Worcester/Framingham Commuter Rail Line, travel during off-peak hours and allow plenty of extra time if you absolutely must drive in this area.”

    “If they don’t have to be in the city, they should avoid it all together,” Gulliver said. “Just don’t come in through that area.”

    Alana Levene can be reached at alana.levene@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @alanalevene.