2016-09-29 / Front Page

Local Bridges Are Among State's Best

RITBA Launches 10-year Construction Plan This Week
By Olga Enger

Although Rhode Island recently scored on the bottom of a national survey that studied highway infrastructure, bridges in Newport County are in relatively good shape and will soon improve even more.

The Reason Foundation ranked Rhode Island 47 out of 50 states for overall highway performance and cost effectiveness in its recently released 22nd annual Highway Report, with only Hawaii, New Jersey and Alaska ranking below.

As one may expect, Rhode Island has one of the smallest state-run highway systems in the country at 1,139 miles. However, it is one of the least cost efficient states, ranking 45 out of 50 for total disbursements per mile. Rhode Island’s worst structural problems are deficient bridges (50th) and rural arterial pavement condition (49th).

Although the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) maintains most of the state’s bridges, local bridges fall under the authority of the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority (RITBA). The authority maintains and operates the Newport Pell, Mount Hope, Jamestown Verrazzano, and Sakonnet River bridges.

“Our number one priority here at RITBA is safety,” said Buddy Croft, the authority’s executive director.

Of the four RITBA bridges, the Jamestown and Sakonnet River bridges are in the best condition, both with a sufficiency rating of 83 out of 100, according to most recent inspection reports. That puts the two bridges as the safest in the state, only exceeded by RIDOT bridges on Scott and Leigh roads in Cumberland, which have scores of 87 and 84, respectively.

The Newport Pell and Mt. Hope bridges have lower scores of 48 and 56, respectively. Bridges that score under a sufficiency rating of 50 must be repaired or replaced, according to industry standards. The majority, or 60 percent, of RIDOT bridges that are 20 feet or longer fall under this threshold.

The only RIDOT-managed bridge in Newport is the Goat Island Causeway, which has a sufficiency rating of 38.

Earlier this month, Gov. Gina Raimondo announced RIDOT will fast track construction to the Huntington Avenue Viaduct Bridge at the 6/10 connector, which she said posed a “public safety issue” because it scores a 19 out of 100. Other bridges across the state scoring critically low include the Pawtuxet River North Bridge (2), the Park Avenue Bridge in Cranston (3.5), and the Division Street Bridge in East Greenwich (2), according to RIDOT data.

As part of RITBA’s 10-Year Renewal and Replacement Plan, repair work is slated for all four of its bridges, with a primary focus on the Newport and Mt. Hope spans. The total price tag of the plan over 10 years is $223 million, with an average annual investment of $22 million. Repairs to the Newport Pell and Mt. Hope bridges make up 75 percent of the budget, and RITBA will use bonding authority as needed to manage the costs.

“It is extremely important that we remain vigilant, maintain, and extend the life of these bridges so the motoring public knows they are safe,” said Croft. “This is an expensive undertaking, but these are costs we must incur.”

Tolls on the Newport Pell Bridge account for the majority of RITBA’s revenue, supplemented by investment income and a percentage of the gasoline tax.

The Newport Pell Bridge was completed in 1969 and is the longest suspension bridge in New England. It cost $55 million to build originally but would cost $1.5 billion to replace, according to RITBA. A majority of the repairs are slated for the 47-year-old bridge deck, which has outlived its originally predicted useful life. Repairs will also be made to the steel superstructure, retrofits and bearing replacement.

The Mt. Hope Bridge was built in 1929 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Crews are expected to focus on steel superstructure repairs, retrofits, main cable rehabilitation and bridge deck repairs.

Smaller repairs are planned for to the Jamestown and Sakonnet River bridges, RITBA facilities, and the 138 connector.

To communicate lane closures and traffic delays due to construction, RITBA launched a new realtime traffic report on its website, ritba.org. Through a data-sharing partnership with Waze, a real-time crowd sourced navigation app, RITBA will deliver up-to-date information regarding lane closures, construction activity and traffic conditions for motorists using its bridges and roadways. A real-time traffic map with current roadway conditions will be embedded on the RITBA website, along with traffic alerts. RITBA will continue to use its social media platforms to provide traffic updates.

Day construction and maintenance activities on the Newport Pell Bridge began this week. Drivers should expect lane closures for the next two weeks.

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