2017-07-13 / Opinion

Construction Break Brings Gratitude


The work “on” the Newport Pell Bridge is done. At least, for now. There was plenty of angst over the recent traffic woes, but instead of complaining about a temporary and needed construction, we should be thankful that all lanes will be open throughout summer.

There were definitely people who said they shied away from coming to Newport or going to the mainland because of the bridge work, which is a shame, because other than during the commuter hours, the traffic was status quo.

The toll costs only 83 cents each way, and that’s a small price to pay for safety.

The work will still continue through July and August, but it will take place underneath the bridge, where construction will be focused on removing the existing steel bearings from the original construction in 1969 and replacing them with new, modern elastomeric bearings. The work will be performed using barges, so there won’t be rush hour lane closures. But Rhode Island Bridge and Turnpike Authority (RIBTA) said there could be minimal lane closures at other times of the day and possibly at night for ongoing maintenance work.

Yes, there were times when it was frustrating. During the first few days of the construction, drivers merged onto the bridge from two lanes, but only after first encountering a stop sign. This caused traffic to back up for what seemed like miles. Just getting onto the bridge took up to 45 minutes. Thankfully, RIBTA partnered with Newport Police and Rhode Island State Police to aid in the merging process during the afternoon commute, making it much less painful. It was hard to remain patient at times, but police deserve our appreciation for their work to make the operation easier.

One question some have is “why now?” There is an extensive FAQ section on the authority’s website, as they knew there would be plenty of questions about the timing of the work. According to RIBTA's Q&A section, the timing was contingent on several factors, including the temperature. The deck of the bridge is concrete, and when wet concrete hardens it goes through a chemical reaction called “hydration,” also commonly called “curing.” If the air temperature is too cold, the concrete will not harden to the required strength and density. Obviously, that is vitally important for a bridge. In spring, the water temperatures are still quite cold. Because of this, RIBTA said it would not have been prudent to start the project earlier.

The time was right, and so was the cost. Replacing a bridge the size of the Newport Pell Bridge would today cost close to $100 million, but this repair project is topping out at about $8 million. In 1966, when the three-year construction of the bridge started, it cost nearly $55 million. Rhode Island taxpayers should be thankful they’re not paying more than $50 million to build another bridge.

And one more reason to be grateful. Many commuters in Boston or New York City sit in hours of traffic, every day, all year long, not just for a month or so. Maybe we should look on the bright side: the traffic is/was temporary, and when the deck repair project is completed, the bridge will allow safe passage for years to come.

Summer is here, and we have a safer bridge at an affordable cost, and a relatively normal commute. Let’s enjoy the season.

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