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Work Continues on Decaying Magnolia Street Bridge

With substantial completion scheduled for late fall, August marked a vital hurdle for this major repair project.

Wed September 10, 2014 - Northeast Edition
Jay Adams

Through a $4.8 million contract with Cardi Corporation, the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) has removed the decaying Magnolia Street Bridge.

With substantial completion scheduled for late fall, August marked a vital hurdle for this major repair project of a critical traffic artery between the Cranston area into downtown Providence. Tens of thousands of motorists use the artery to commute to work daily.

Cardi Corporation of Warwick, R.I., and a team of subcontractors also have realigned a portion of Route 6 — a central highway that takes traffic from popular Federal Hill and the iconic Providence Place Mall area west through Cranston, Johnston and Scituate.

Route 6 connects to Route 10 — it is locally nicknamed the “6-10 connector” — with a first heavily used exit/entrance onto Plainfield Street, which has been realigned, reconnected and repaved.

On Schedule, Maybe Sooner

According to RIDOT, after a series of meetings with commuters and abutters, the project began a year ago in August 2013.

It started well, according to Steve Ricci, resident engineer and project manager, and is now ahead of schedule.

“We did as much as we could at the time,” said Ricci. “We proceeded with doing erosion control measures to comply with Rhode Island DEM [Department of Environmental Management] permits. We started there and have been rolling ever since.”

Route 6 and the bridge are part of a winding, circular section of highway with busy on-ramps that flow above ground level. A series of detours were established as the “connector” is vital to people in towns west of Providence attempting to get to their city jobs without going down and miring on inappropriately clotted side streets below.

“The detours went well over time. Not at first, maybe, but people got used to them and, after that, it went smoothly,” said Ricci.

Ricci said there are many access points to the project area, which had to be accommodated.

“From the Silver Lake section of Providence and points east into Cranston, and points west into Cranston, we have a lot of vehicles per day,” said Ricci.

Four Out of Five Phases Done

By mid-August, Ricci said that the Magnolia Street Bridge project was more than 70 percent complete, with general contractor Cardi Corporation. The company was awarded the vast majority of state DOT contracts on federal highways and bridges — completing four phases of what was slated as a five-phase project.

“The bridge has been removed and the realignments are done,” said Ricci. “The phase 5 portion of the work is the last phase of project. After that, it is a matter of buttoning it up, and completing landscape work.

“In phase 5, we’re going to continue on Route 6, east and westbound, approximately a tenth of a mile section from Route 10 to Hartford Avenue. This final section will be paved. We will put in overhead sign structures, new signage and LED highway lighting. This is the first project in Rhode Island with LED highway lighting.”

Ricci said the completion date is set for Oct. 24 although there is a good chance they may finish sooner than that. An accelerated work schedule through Cardi Corp. helped move the project forward.

“There were portions of night work that had to take place due to the impact of the work on vehicular traffic and we extended working hours,” said Ricci. “But the majority of the work was done during the day.

“Construction is a changing environment there have been no major setbacks in the work. There was nothing we didn’t see coming, working in an urban environment. The project is pretty much being done in the same footprint as the original bridge and ramps, though we did realign the on-ramp from Plainfield Street to Route 6 to make the highway section more efficient. It has the same amount of lanes. We did realignment because we have the on-ramp coming in on right hand side for merging purposes.”

Rose Amoros, chief public affairs officer of RIDOT, said the Magnolia Street Bridge project is the first part of ongoing improvements to the Rte. 6/10 connector.

“This is the first contract approved for the improvements of Route 6/10,” said Amoros. “We will do subsequent work when the funds are available. We are looking to improve the entire infrastructure into the city and the on ramps.”

Federal Funds Cut Off

“We have to completely overhaul the Route 6/10 connector, but that is estimated to cost between $400 and $500 million. But we don’t have funds to do so in Rhode Island. Until we have a long-term federal highway bill in place, we cannot plan for projects such as this, with money we do not have. What Congress voted on in July, to supplement the highway trust fund at the federal level, was just a patch. What Congress currently acted on was a short-term measure so that the highway trust fund did not become insolvent by Aug. 1. They voted to continue funding existing state projects through May 2015. Route 6/10 is a big issue with an absolute need but there is no money available,” said Amoros.

Amoros referred to the temporary patch over a multi-billion-dollar pothole in federal transit programs and highway bills without solving how to continue financing road bills in the future.

The House of Representatives allotted $10.8 billion in July from various taxes, fees and funds (including a fund to repair underground storage tank fuel leaks) to keep the Highway Trust Fund solvent through May of next year. The fund pays for transportation programs through the states.

The Senate has worked on a similar bill. The Federal Transportation Department said that without this congressional action, promised highway funding to states for road, highway and bridge repair could not be covered. The fund has teetered on bankruptcy since 2008. There has been a cache of small patches but lawmakers cannot agree on how to fund the roads over the long haul.

Republicans and Democrats continue to argue about whether to increase gas taxes in an election year to fund the program or to close tax loopholes. According to CBS News and many other sources, states have been told to expect an average of 28 percent reduction in aid if Congress fails to act. A zero balance in the fund is possible. Some states have already delayed or cancelled construction projects due to the shortage.

But RIDOT asserts it is in full control of what it can control.

“I think one thing that is really important is that we are doing some critical work down there that is going to improve driving along that corridor,” said Amoros. “From a safety aspect, that is very important. During an accelerated timeline, we were able to demolish the Magnolia Street Bridge and repave and get an on-ramp up and realigned much sooner. From an impact perspective, we were able to minimize the impact on the community. We are on schedule. We keep people informed. We have a very robust communication program at RIDOT with weekly updates and people are made aware of any big maneuvers.”

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