2014-04-03 / Opinion

Bridge Management Questioned

To the Editor:

On March 19, I attended the first RITBA (RI Turnpike and Bridge Authority) Board meeting of 2014.

I learned that according to the RITBA Chairman David Darlington, an “open” meeting just means that the door to the meeting has to be left open. He owes Mr. William Oberg an apology for Darlington's misinterpretation of R.I. General Law 42-46. (Mr. Oberg attempted to close a door to the meeting because some of us could not hear the speaker at the time, Mr. David Prior).

I learned from the CDM Smith study, that we toll payers have just paid for, has suggested better signage at the Pell Bridge and its approaches: e.g., signage should be less distracting and more appropriate. Yet RITBA, failing to follow its own experts’ advice, has placed a commercial sign just east of the Jamestown plaza, where four or five lanes merge into two. This is a chronic issue, as this same location has been used in the past to advertise other commercial ventures, such as valet parking in Newport.

I can’t imagine the RIDOT selling advertising space on the approach to the bridge.

I also learned that RITBA, according to Co-chairman Steven Waluk, does not have enough “statistics” and “facts” to make a decision about median barriers. Does this mean that RITBA has no idea about historical traffic and accident data on the Pell Bridge? And if so, why not?

I can’t imagine RIDOT not having some kind of extensive and historical traffic data on a structure as critical as the Pell Bridge.

I learned something else from Mr. Waluk: RITBA has “nothing to do with distracted driving on the bridge” as he insists that RITBA has no control over that obvious hazard.

I can’t imagine anyone from RIDOT making such a statement, or even having that mindset, when an average of 28,000 vehicles, mostly carrying local residents, crosses that bridge every day. (Texting and speeding were thought to be involved in the 2011 head on crash that killed Kenny Prior and Kathy Meunier). If RITBA has no control over bridge safety, then a more appropriate system of management has to be put in place to protect the public.

Mr. Waluk also said that RITBA has to pay extra money for Rhode Island State Police enforcement on the bridge-what does that mean?

The management of the infrastructure that includes the Pell Bridge is critical, not only to Rhode Island but also to all of Southeastern New England and to strategic U.S. Navy facilities. It should not be left in the hands of political appointees. It’s time to reconsider the management of these assets.

Thanks to the State Police, who arrested two men last month for drag racing at 91 mph on the Pell bridge.

And thanks to Rep. Ruggiero and Sen. Paiva-Weed for introducing bills to increase the penalties for texting while driving and to request the construction of a median barrier on the Pell bridge.

Most of all, thanks to the brave families, who despite their losses and devastation, continue to advocate for safety for the rest of us. Judith A. Byrnes


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