Report: RI Has Second-Highest Percentage of Bad Bridges

Wed November 03, 2004 - Northeast Edition
Richard C. Lewis

PROVIDENCE, RI (AP) Rhode Island’s roads and bridges are in poor or faltering condition, costing residents on average approximately $350 annually in vehicle repairs, according to a national transportation research group.

The Road Information Program said Thursday, Oct. 14, 24 percent of Rhode Island’s bridges are structurally deficient, the second-highest percentage in the nation. The percentage is essentially unchanged from a TRIP report in 2002, the last time the study was conducted. Oklahoma had the highest percentage of bad bridges in the country, the report said.

Also, authors report 53 percent of state roads are faltering, with 15 percent of them needing immediate repair. The result, the group wrote, is that residents are paying $348 per year to keep their vehicles running, or approximately 28 percent more than the national average of $271 in vehicle-maintenance costs.

The group gave the state a “D” grade for its bridges and a “C minus” for its roads. It also rated traffic congestion a “C,” and road safety a “B.”

The state Department of Transportation does not dispute the findings. Its director, James Capaldi, said Rhode Island is barely able to maintain its bridges and roads. Capaldi urged voters to approve a $66.5-million borrowing request that will allow the state to obtain another $378 million in federal transportation funding for bridge, road and other projects. The department also gets money from a gas tax, which is used for repair work.

“We’d be in pretty serious shape” if voters don’t approve the referendum on Nov. 2, Capaldi said. He added that without the money the department wouldn’t be able to do any new construction for the next two years. Capaldi responded to a question about raising the gas tax to increase revenue for the department by saying Rhode Island already has the highest tax in the country.

The report linked the state’s transportation network with its economic vitality, saying modernizing bridges and roads “is of critical importance if Rhode Island is to capitalize on economic development opportunities.”

Researchers noted that 95 percent of goods entering or exiting Rhode Island are transported by road. The authors forecast commercial trucking to continue to increase, further straining roads and bridges and adding to congestion problems in a state where traffic clogged 37 percent of roadways in 2002, the group found.

Transportation planners recognize this, and Capaldi said his department is examining alternatives to driving, such as building a transportation center near T.F. Green Airport in Warwick and extending a commuter train line to the Wickford section of North Kingstown. He called it a question of how much traffic people will tolerate.

“How do you get people out of cars? It’s very difficult to do,” Capaldi said. “We’re getting high peaks, when everyone wants to get to work at 8 a.m.”

Capaldi was reluctant to name which bridges were the worst. He said the 700-ft. elevated section of Interstate 95 that crosses over Routes 6 and 10 in downtown Providence is of particular concern.