Key Rhode Island bridge demolition, replacement may cost $300M

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Dive Brief:

  • The I-195 Washington Bridge, a key gateway to Providence, Rhode Island, has to be demolished and replaced, according to an inspection report released Thursday. State officials closed the bridge abruptly in December 2023 after an engineer flagged safety concerns over broken tie-down rods. 
  • A subsequent audit identified more problems including unsound concrete, corrosion and “structural deficiencies that cannot be viably repaired,” according to the report. The authors concluded that “the decision to close the bridge was the right and responsible decision.”
  • The demolition and bridge replacement could cost up to $300 million, Rhode Island DOT Director Peter Alviti Jr. said at a news conference with Gov. Dan McKee Thursday, but he stressed that the sum is just an estimate. Alviti said that there will be more clarity on project cost and timeline after a design-build contract is awarded, which he hopes will happen by July.

Dive Insight:

The westbound Washington Bridge opened in 1968 and carried nearly 100,000 vehicles every day over the Seekonk River. The sudden 2023 closure immediately backed up traffic and has since disrupted life in the area, according to news reports. 

The investigation found that at least two of 12 steel rods that hold major beams in place were severed at Pier 7, and “if all the tie-down rods had failed at one pier, the span would have become unstable and collapsed.” The report authors agreed that demolishing and rebuilding the span is the best option, as the superstructure and all or part of the substructure of the bridge would need to be replaced to come up to code.

McKee said his administration is looking into what led to the failure.

“I am deeply disturbed by the additional structural deficiencies identified by the in-depth review of the bridge,” McKee said in a news release. “When we have all the facts, we will hold any responsible parties fully accountable. The day for accountability will come.”

The U.S. Department of Justice is conducting a separate investigation around the circumstances of the December 2023 shutdown, more specifically an “allegation that false claims for payment for services and/or false statements in support of such payments have been submitted to the U.S. government,” The Providence Journal reported.

The governor’s office said it chose Broomfield, Colorado-based engineer McNary, Bergeron & Johannesen, which is not affiliated with any current construction projects in Rhode Island, to oversee and review the information gathered for the report from other engineering consultants to ensure its accuracy.  

What went wrong?

Officials were aware that the bridge was in bad shape: Alviti wrote about its poor condition in a 2019 grant application, and rehabilitation work was ongoing when an engineer found the critical damage. A Barletta Heavy Division/Aetna Bridge Co. consortium — headquartered in Canton, Massachusetts, and Warwick, Rhode Island, respectively — was repairing the bridge under a $78 million contract awarded in 2021. 

When Dallas-based AECOM performed a routine inspection in July 2023, it rated the bridge as poor overall, but said the rods were in working order, according to The Providence Journal. AECOM didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. 

The governor said about half of the $78 million for repairs has been spent, and he aims to use the remaining money to offset the new bridge’s costs. Barletta-Aetna is doing emergency work on the bridge now under a separate contract, including reworking a temporary traffic pattern. 

McKee said he has been in touch with U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg about the situation and has gotten assurances that Rhode Island will get federal assistance for a new span. Buttigieg is visiting the state Tuesday to promote the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

Both the demotion and the design-build contracts will be put out to bid, according to the release, and the new bridge could be complete within 18 to 24 months of a contract award. Demolition is expected to wrap up in March 2025.

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