2017-05-11 / Front Page

‘Monumental’ Pell Bridge Project Begins

Lane closures are planned through June and into the fall
By Olga Enger

Crews will soon begin work on a major deck repair project for the Newport Pell Bridge, the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority (RITBA) announced Monday, May 8. The repairs require two periods of lane closures: the first from May 15 to June 30 and the second from Sept. 19 through mid-December. A single travel lane will be made available to drivers in both directions during those time frames.

In July and August, crews will work from underneath the bridge, using barges, so there will not be any lane closures during that period. The lanes will also be open for Memorial Day, to accommodate holiday traffic.

“This is a significant project...You are going to see delays,” said RITBA Director of Engineering Eric Offenberg at a press conference held at the Jamestown headquarters on May 8. Temperatures must consistently reach above 50 degrees to complete concrete work, which is why an earlier start was not possible, explained Offenberg. However, even if the chilly weather continues, he is confident that the lane closures will not extend into July.

“The contractor has built in a good contingency for weather,” he said.

The Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) maintains most of the state’s bridges, but local bridges fall under RITBA’s control. The authority operates the Newport Pell, Mount Hope, Jamestown Verrazzano, and Sakonnet River bridges. The Newport Pell Bridge is the largest suspension bridge in New England and has served hundreds of millions of cars, said Offenberg.

This will be the first of several phases of the deck repair project, which is expected to continue for up to eight years. To complete this first phase, RITBA awarded a $8,127,775 construction contract to the lowest bidder, Aetna Bridge Company of Warwick. The total project cost, including design and construction oversight, is expected to cost around $9 million. The total cost of police details has not been estimated, said Offenberg. Aetna has completed a long-list of repair projects on the Newport Bridge in the past.

The scope and cost of the subsequent phases is unknown.

The project, part of RITBA’s $223 million 10-Year Renewal and Replacement Plan, which is funded through tolls, a percentage of the gasoline tax, and bonding, will begin on the bridge’s east approach on the Newport side, covering about 2,000 feet of the 11,247- foot bridge. Crews will demolish and replace the concrete roadway deck from curb to curb. They will also remove the existing steel bearings from the bridge’s original construction and replace them with elastomeric bearings.

“The bridge is an engineering marvel that needs constant care and maintenance,” said RITBA Executive Director Buddy Croft. We are at the point where the deck on the bridge needs some major repairs. Let me be clear that the structure is safe.”

When the bridge was completed 48 years ago, the bridge deck’s lifespan was estimated to be 30 years. RITBA was been able to extend the life of the deck with continuous maintenance, said Croft.

“This is a monumental project. We have gone to great lengths to maintain and repair the roadway deck on the Newport Pell Bridge, but at this point, the roadway deck needs partial replacement,” said Croft. “We understand this project will impact motorists, and we are going to do our best to mitigate traffic issues. Our number one priority here at RITBA is the safety of the motorist.”

During the periods of lane closures, vehicles with a width greater than 8 feet 6 inches will not be allowed to use the bridge. That includes an average tractor-trailer or a truck hauling a boat, said officials. Overweight vehicles with gross vehicle weight (GVW) over 80,000 pounds will be prohibited from crossing the bridge for the duration of the project. Buses, which do not fall into these categories, will be allowed to cross the bridge at any time.

To ensure prohibited vehicles do not enter the bridge, police details will be set up at both ends. “There will be a state police trooper presence 24/7,” said Offenberg. Additionally, local police will help monitor the size and weight restrictions during the periods of lane closures, he added.

The work will begin on the Newport side, so it will be completed before RIDOT begins the ramp realignment project. In March, officials announced that the long-discussed plan to redesign the ramps received $40 million of funding through RhodeWorks, the 10-year road-improvement funding program initiated by Governor Gina Raimondo. The preliminary design, which replaces the ramps with four roundabouts, hopes to lighten traffic, reconnect Newport’s streets, and make 34 acres of land available for commercial development.

“We want to complete this project before DOT begins construction,” said Kroft…it will make it smoother for them."

To receive the latest information on the project, lane closures and traffic delays, visit RITBA.org.

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