Say, How About We Start Repairing Bridges Worst to First?

You may remember that truck-only tolls were passed with dire statements about the condition of Rhode Island bridges.  “People will die if we don’t get this new revenue stream to repair Rhode Island’s poor bridges” was repeatedly stated or heavily implied during the debate about and passage of the proposed new, legally quizzical, unnecessary toll on large trucks requested by former Governor Gina Raimondo and current RIDOT Director Peter Alviti.

Wow, sounds serious.  Okay, Gov Raimondo and RIDOT, here’s your dubious new revenue stream. 

But if the bridges are that bad and their condition poses such a dire threat to public safety, you’re at least going to repair them from worst to first, right, RIDOT?

Sure, they can’t be repaired exactly worst to first for reasons of logistics.  So you triage.  And the repair of a bridge whose condition was rated as “Poor” by RIDOT at least as far back as July, 2020; over a body of water (which would exacerbate corrosion); and that contains critical structural components from 1968 should be high on the list, not get postponed with crossed fingers.

Minimally, that bridge gets prioritized ahead of a bridge with a sufficiency rating of 72% per RIDOT’s own inspection report – the Oxford Street Bridge – that happens (undoubtedly a total coincidence) to be in a strategically advantageous location to maximize your legally dubious new revenue stream.

But that’s not what happened. Repairs, necessary or not, to the Oxford Street Bridge were completed in December, 2019. Much needed repairs to the Washington Bridge had not yet commenced when it was suddenly closed Monday due to the imminent failure of a critical component.

Members of the public, who pay for all of this and some of whose lives and businesses are being seriously disrupted, are being scolded for asking questions rather than simply being grateful that a catastrophic collapse was avoided and people did not die.

But isn’t that kind of a baseline?  Isn’t it reasonable to expect that, minimally, state government will deliver the public services and projects we fund with an absence of fatalities?

In fact, the public has the right to expect a little more; to expect, for example, that the state highway infrastructure for which we pay top dollar is functional.

In the aftermath of the abrupt closure of the westbound side of the Washington Bridge, the Director of RIDOT has widely stated in the media

What you’re seeing here is the system working

Umm, your “system” resulted in the necessity to close one side of an interstate.  The daily flow of 96,000 vehicles was abruptly stopped.  The resulting massive diversion of those vehicles has seriously disrupted lives, businesses, commerce and medical care.  That’s not a system “working”.

As experts have commented, “It shouldn’t have come to this”.  Those anchor pins needed attention far sooner than RIDOT had scheduled.

The closure of the Washington Bridge clearly calls for a change of direction and for RIDOT to adjust their “system”.  Here’s one idea.  How about we prioritize the repair of bridges in worse condition over those in better condition?  Otherwise, as we were urgently told in 2016, people might die.

[Featured image credit: Snapshot from RIDOT’s July, 2020 inspection report of the Washington Bridge classifying its condition as “Poor”.]

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Vincent Marzullo
Vincent Marzullo
2 months ago

Nice job – spot on!

Ken Williamson
Ken Williamson
2 months ago

Why is State of Rhode Island Senate Fiscal Office Issue Brief; January 10, 2023, Motor Fuel Tax is taking over 40% of State of Rhode Island collected gasoline tax ear marked for RIDOT, which is supposed to be used to maintain and fix state roads and bridges infrastructure are using those funds to support RIPTA operations while the Washington Bridge I-195 West between East Providence and Providence falls apart?: Motor Fuel Tax (rilegislature.gov)

Donna J Cook
Donna J Cook
1 month ago

Such incompetence, yet no one is held accountable. Remember, before the truck tolls, the state wanted to put tolls on the Sakonnet Bridge to maintain ALL the bridges. The East Bay area of the state was going to have the burden of paying for all the upkeep. We fought this and won. Truck, bridge and other tolls don’t work if the money is squandered and there is poor governance.
The whole state runs on poor governance.

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