2013-12-12 / Around Town

Council Stalls on Bridge Barrier

By Tom Shevlin

City Councilors on Wednesday put off a vote to back a call to install a center median on the Newport Pell Bridge. In a resolution endorsed by the majority of the council, councilors were expected to ask the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority to “prioritize the installation of a center median barrier for the safety of all those who traverse the Newport Pell Bridge.” But before a final vote was taken, some on the council wanted a bit more information on how such a median would be installed. The matter is expected to come back before the council next month.

The council resolution had also called for stricter enforcement of driving regulations for those crossing the bridge, and for communities across Newport County and the entire state to join in the effort to make the bridge safer.

According to the resolution, “safe passage over the Pell Bridge by all users requires Rhode Island law enforcement officials to strictly enforce laws prohibiting speeding and distracted driving.”

It also noted that studies undertaken by RITBA have shown that there is a need to install a center median in order to prevent a “rising number of cross-over collisions.”

The resolution comes on the heels of communication sent to the council by the family members of Kenneth Prior and Kathy Meunier, who were commuting home from work when they were killed in a cross-over accident on the bridge in October of 2011.

With more than 27,000 vehicles crossing the Pell Bridge every day, the span is one of the most heavily trafficked roads in the southern portion of the state.

Proponents of the barrier, who have started an online petition to raise awareness of the issue, say that industry standards typically dictate that a median barrier be placed on any road when more than 20,000 vehicle trips take place any day.

While highway officials have acknowledged exploring the need for a center median in the past, they also note that there is still engineering work to be completed prior to finalizing any potential plans.

According to state police, between 1998 and 2011 there were 49 head-on crashes on the bridge of varying degrees of seriousness, or an average of 3.7 accidents per year.

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