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Failing Components Force Lane Closure On Busy Bridge

Thu December 28, 2023 - Northeast Edition #1
Lori Tobias – CEG Correspondent


According to the RIDOT consultant’s report, defects observed on the Washington Bridge included failed tie downs, bouncing and gaps at bearings.
Photo courtesy of RIDOT
According to the RIDOT consultant’s report, defects observed on the Washington Bridge included failed tie downs, bouncing and gaps at bearings.
According to the RIDOT consultant’s report, defects observed on the Washington Bridge included failed tie downs, bouncing and gaps at bearings.   (Photo courtesy of RIDOT) Following notice of the failing anchor points, RIDOT diverted traffic to alternate routes and began “round-the-clock” work.   (Photo courtesy of RIDOT) RIDOT reported the work had been successfully accomplished on the morning of Dec. 15, four days after the closure.   (Photo courtesy of RIDOT)

The Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) recently closed the westbound lanes of the Washington Bridge, one of the busiest sections of highway in the state, after a consultant inspecting work on the bridge discovered bridge components that were in critical danger of failing.

Photo courtesy of RIDOT

"Rhode Island has a strong team of public safety and engineering experts who were mobilized quickly yesterday to address a critical issue at the Washington Bridge with the chief goal of keeping residents safe," said Rhode Island Gov. Dan McKee in a press release following the Dec. 11, 2023, closure. "Right now, this is the number-one priority. Our all-hands-on-deck team of state and local leaders continues to ensure public safety while minimizing any burden caused by the temporary traffic patterns."

Built in 1968, the Washington Bridge carries 96,000 vehicles daily. Construction crews began a $78 million reconstruction project in 2021 aimed at correcting structural deficiencies on the westbound portion, which carries I-195 over the Seekonk River between East Providence and Providence. However, RIDOT noted that the recently discovered failing components, anchor rods, are not part of the reconstruction project.

According to the RIDOT consultant's report, defects observed included failed tie downs, bouncing and gaps at bearings. Following notice of the failing anchor points, RIDOT diverted traffic to alternate routes and began "round-the-clock" work to create two westbound lanes from East Providence to Providence on the eastbound side of the bridge. RIDOT reported the work had been successfully accomplished on the morning of Dec. 15, four days after the closure.

"This temporary traffic pattern will allow two lanes of travel westbound and two lanes of travel eastbound — all operating on the eastbound Washington Bridge," according to RIDOT. "RIDOT will reopen most ramps that had been closed. However, the Gano Street off-ramp [Exit 1D] will remain closed as will the on-ramps to I-195 West from Veterans Memorial Parkway, Taunton Avenue and Warren Avenue. RIDOT will continue to maintain passage on the westbound bridge for emergency vehicles only.

"With the bypass lane open, RIDOT expects it will help alleviate congestion, but there will still be delays. Motorists may continue to find one detour route or the other more effective for them. As traffic becomes accustomed to the change with the bypass lanes open, RIDOT expects congestion levels to even out and create more predictable traffic flow and travel times."

In addition to relocating the westbound lanes, RIDOT also announced Dec. 18 that it had contracted with SeaStreak, Rhode Island Fast Ferry and the Block Island Ferry, to offer free ferry service to travelers who need to commute between the Bristol area and Providence starting Dec. 20, 2023, weather permitting.

"We wanted to offer as many modes of transportation as we could to people who have been affected by the closure of one side of the Washington Bridge," RIDOT director Peter Alviti said.

RIDOT said it plans to offer the service for 99 days total between Dec. 20, 2023, and March 29, 2024.

Photo courtesy of RIDOT

The original Washington Bridge reconstruction project includes a new off-ramp to support economic development opportunities and address chronic congestion issues on the Interstate. It was later expanded, "Thanks to the efforts of Rhode Island's Congressional delegation in support of a $25 million federal BUILD grant," to include a new exit to Waterfront Drive in East Providence — "providing access to dozens of acres of developable land, as well as an additional through lane on the bridge to better accommodate Interstate traffic and the high volume of traffic entering the highway from the Veterans Memorial Parkway, Warren Avenue and Taunton Avenue ramps."

In the reconstruction description, RIDOT describes the Washington Bridge as "... the source of chronic congestion with backups often extending as far back as the Massachusetts state line, particularly during the morning rush hour. When the project is done, the average morning commute from the state line to I-95 will be trimmed by 40 percent, from 16 minutes to 9.5 minutes."

Work on the reconstruction project was originally scheduled for completion in 2026. CEG




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