2013-10-31 / Opinion

RITBA Aware of Safety Risks on Pell

To the Editor:

Thank you for reporting on the Pell Bridge crash and safety issues. I also appreciate Newport This Week publishing my letter captioned “You Could Be the Next Person Killed on the Pell.”

The Citizens of Newport County and Rhode Island should all know what is contained in the two Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant applications filed by the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority (RITBA) in 2009 and again in 2011. The two applications describe in RITBA’s own words and with its own statistics the compelling need for a median barrier on the bridge.

The recent comments by RITBA and its chairman, David Darlingtonon, on the continued delay in installing a barrier do not make sense. Facts are stubborn things. There are some important facts your readers should know: • RITBA said in its 2009 TIGER grant application that “the median barrier design is approximately 50% complete and final plans and specifications could be completed within three months. If TIGER grant funds are provided for the project, construction can be completed by June 2011.” • If the barrier had been installed by June 2011, Kenny Prior and Kathy Meunier could be alive today. They were both killed on Oct. 21, 2011. • RITBA said in its 2010 bond offering that if it did not receive a TIGER grant for a barrier, it would use its own funds for a barrier. It did not. Instead, it built a new office building and boardroom for its own “comfort and safety” (Mr. Darlington’s words). • RITBA said in both grant applications it needed a barrier to protect the 5,000 people who work at the Navy base in Newport. A barrier could have protected Kenny Prior and Kathy Meunier. They both worked at the Navy base. • RITBA said in its 2010 application that a median barrier was “mandated” by industry standards, which require a barrier on a bridge with over 20,000 vehicles crossing daily. RITBA has ignored these standards in light of the fact that over 27,000 vehicles a day, including 15,000 daily commuters, use the Pell Bridge. They are all at serious risk every day. • RITBA said in its 2010 application that from 2006 to 2009, 130 vehicles were involved in 72 accidents and 18 of these accidents were head-on collisions caused by vehicle crossovers. • RITBA said in its 2010 application that “the annual number of accidents and crossovers is on an upward trend. The median barrier will redirect errant vehicles most effectively, minimizing sideswipe accidents with the barrier and with vehicles in the adjacent lane.” • RITBA said in its 2010 application that it had studied 17 different barrier types, including the lightweight movable barriers installed on New York's Tappan Zee Bridge, and had identified and selected the best option for the Pell Bridge. RITBA cited studies done in nine other states. • RITBA had Parsons Brinckerhoff, its engineering firm, complete a study that concluded that the bridge would be safer with a barrier and more stable and structurally sound, even in high winds. RITBA paid over $300,000 for the study.

Mr. Darlington’s excuses, provided piecemeal to the Rhode Island news media last week, simply do not hold water.

For Mr. Darlington to say that RITBA never intended to install a barrier until 2015, even if it obtained a TIGER grant, is insensitive to the victims’ families. It demonstrates an arrogant disregard for the safety of everyone who crosses the bridge every day. The statement is also in flat contradiction to what RITBA represented to the federal government in 2009 when it said the barrier was “shovel ready” for installation.

H. David Prior Jamestown

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