2017-08-31 / Around Town

Bridge Segment To Be Done by Thanksgiving

By Brooke Constance White

After a nice respite this summer, the Newport Pell Bridge deck-repair project will be getting underway again in mid-September.

Commuters can expect

The extensive bridge deck project began in mid-May with a 200- foot section, and ended in late June to alleviate traffic backups during the city’s busy summer season. On Sept. 19, with cooler weather and an absence of summer crowds, the project will shift into high gear as the Bridge and Turnpike Authority implements single-lane travel in each direction throughout the entirety of the next project phase, including the replacement of around 900 feet of the bridge’s 11,247-

During an Aug. 28 presentation to local business owners and community stakeholders at the Newport County Chamber of Commerce, Offenberg explained how the next few months will play out and discussed some of the community’s concerns.

“We understand this project is a huge inconvenience to everybody and it’s not a project we simply decided to do,” he said, indicating that the bridge was originally built in 1969 and its deck was designed to last 30 years. “A lot of planning has gone into this and we want the bridge to last forever, so we need to take care of it.”

Over the last eight years, Offenberg said, the Bridge and Turnpike Authority painted and repaired steel on the bridge. Now, because the cement deck needs to cure and reach a certain level of strength, the project is being completed in phases as weather and temperatures allow.

The work that took place during July and August was done underneath the bridge, where workers focused on removing the existing steel bearings from the original 1969 construction and replacing them with new, modern elastomeric bearings.

Erin Donovan-Boyle, executive director of the Newport County Chamber of Commerce, said that the majority of complaints her office received were from employers whose staff were unable to make it to work on time due to traffic delays related to the construction in May.

“When we’re talking about rush hour, I think day-to-day employees and employers are the most concerned,” she said. “This really affects them the most.”

Other meeting attendees said they were concerned about students getting to the Community College of Rhode Island’s Newport campus, and for shift changes at the Navy base during rush hour.

Offenberg acknowledged the spring delays, saying the worst traffic was between 6 and 9 a.m. and then in the afternoon from 3-6 p.m., and will likely be the same as the project resumes. Although he said most commuters experienced about 20 extra minutes of travel time during their ride to and from work, it still caused a lot of consternation.

“I’m not going to sugarcoat it,” Offenberg said. “There were some bad days where people sat in traffic, not moving for an hour and a half. But we’ve done a lot of research and are working on more driver awareness so people know the project is happening.”

Offenberg noted that the Bridge and Turnpike Authority is partnering with the city of Newport and state police so police details can manage traffic, and have also teamed up with the smartphone application, Waze, so people can preview what their commute will look like.

During this next phase of the project, Offenberg said they will again close the open-road tolling lane on the Newport-bound side of Route 138.

“The lane widths will be down to 10 feet with no room to negotiate and so with the open-road tolling closed, no trucks can slip through,” Offenberg said. “Because we’re replacing all the bearings of the bridge, we have to jack the deck up and it can’t take those heavy loads that it usually can.”

The Bridge and Turnpike Authority is working on the Newport side first because the Rhode Island Department of Transportation plans to redo the bridge ramps in the same direction by 2020, and working on the same side at the same time would cause even longer delays.

Once the upcoming portion of the bridge is complete, there will still be another 10,000 feet of bridge deck to replace. Offenberg said the next portion of the replacement will not happen until 2019, and a cable inspection will be completed in the summer of 2018.

“We won’t be doing a project on the deck every single year, because once we get through the first section that we’ll be starting next month, we’ll be able to do longer portions at once,” Offenberg said. “And it’s all going to be a public process, so we’ll be working with the police, city and entire community throughout it all.”

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