Rhode Island Bridge Demo and Replacement May Cost $300m

The state is working overtime to upgrade its transportation network.

Source : Rhode Island DOT

March 26, 2024

Author : Alex Bustillos

A vital gateway to Providence, the I-195 Washington Bridge, has reached the end of its lifespan. An alarming engineering report revealed severe structural problems, forcing officials to close the bridge and earmark it for demolition. Building a replacement could cost Rhode Island taxpayers up to $300 million.

The closure of the busy westbound Washington Bridge in December 2023 blindsided commuters, causing massive traffic disruptions. It turned commutes that should have taken 40-45 minutes into several-hour ordeals. Some schools were forced to close and hold classes remotely due to staff being unable to reach their work sites.

An engineer discovered critical safety issues, including broken steel rods crucial for stability. “If all the tie-down rods had failed at one pier, the span would have become unstable and collapsed,” the report concluded, adding that demolition and a full replacement were now the only viable options.

Rhode Island DOT Director Peter Alviti Jr. says securing a design-build contract by July is a top priority. The hope is to have a new bridge open within 18 to 24 months, but cost estimates are still being finalized. The state is actively seeking federal assistance, with U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, visiting Rhode Island on Tuesday, signaling potential support for the project. 

Governor Dan McKee has vowed to find out what led to the bridge’s catastrophic decline. “I am deeply disturbed by the additional structural deficiencies identified by the in-depth review of the bridge,” McKee said in a statement. “When we have all the facts, we will hold any responsible parties fully accountable. The day for accountability will come.” The U.S. Department of Justice is conducting a separate investigation into allegations of fraudulent payment claims related to the bridge’s maintenance.

The Washington Bridge, opened in 1968, carried nearly 100,000 vehicles daily over the Seekonk River. Its poor condition wasn’t exactly a secret. In 2019, Director Alviti wrote about its problems in a grant application, and repair work was ongoing when critical damage was found in 2023. That work was under a $78 million contract awarded in 2021 to a Barletta Heavy Division/Aetna Bridge Co. consortium. The governor says about half of those funds remain and will be allocated toward the replacement.

In 2022, John Flaherty, GrowSmart Deputy Director and a state Transportation Advisory Committee member, estimated that Rhode Island’s mass transit spending was around $163 million annually, but to fully implement the Transit Master Plan, the state would need to increase its annual investment to approximately $389 million. 

Currently, Rhode Island residents are demanding broader improvements to the state’s transportation infrastructure. Not too long ago, Phase 2 of the Pell Bridge project included a $74 million redesign of roads leading to the vital Newport gateway. But, the recurring public infrastructure issues have activist groups urging Rhode Island’s next governor to make greater investments in public transit, safer bike lanes, and less reliance on cars. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is providing funding to help Rhode Island address these complex infrastructure needs. Meanwhile, officials promise transparency as they move forward with the demolition and bidding for a new bridge.

Category : Department of Transportation State Government Bridges

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