2007-08-09 / Front Page

Authority commited to Newport bridge safety

By Dotti Farrington

Local bridge officials called a news conference last Friday to discuss the condition of the Newport Pell Bridge and the Mount Hope Bridge between Bristol and Portsmouth. The Rhode Island Turnpike & Bridge Athourity (RITBA) runs the two bridges and no others.

The authority was responding to concerns they believed their bridge users might have because of the collapse of the major highway bridge in Minneapolis.

David Darlington, authority chairman, who hosted the press conference acknowledged the enviable position the authority was seen as having- that of only having two bridges to oversee. He admitted, "I would not want to be the DOT (RI Department of Transportation) director who has money and other constraints" as he oversees more than 700 other bridges in the state. More than half of Rhode Island bridges are rated as needing attention and repair.

Darlington noted that Jerome Williams, DOT director, is one of board's five members committed to keeping the two bridges over Narragansett Bay "in great shape." The other three authority members are Richard Eannarino of Jamestown, Mayor Stephen Waluk of Newport and Arthur Fletcher of Lincoln.

Inspections

Darlington and Peter Janaros, RITBA engineering director, quoted from inspection reports that the authority's bridges were in good condition. They distributed sections from the 2006 annual report.

Debra Moolin Taylor, project engineer for the international consulting and engineering firm, PB (Parsons Brinckerhoff) Americas based in New York, spoke about the inspections she oversees and the excellence of its maintenance. Her firm also designed the bridge.

They emphasized that inspections are conducted annually and repairs are performed on an on-going basis. Darlington said the authority spent $10 million in repairs during the past year and a total of $50 million on the two bridges during the past ten years. He explained that funds come from tolls of about 21,000 vehicles a day on the Newport Bridge, where tolls totaled $13 million last year.

The Mount Hope Bridge, without tolls since 1998, accounts for about 16,000 vehicles a day.

The chairman said that about 60-percent of the income is used for repairs, and that the remaining 40-percent is split between bond payments and staff costs. He also reported an estimated $120 million will be spent on maintenance and repairs during the coming decade.

Pell bridge report

Inspection summaries for the bridges covered different elements of each structure in various years and did not cover inspection of all bridge elements every year. Janaros said full reports are not public because of the security data they contain.

Newport Bridge inspectors found the bridge was in "generally good condition… identifying recommended repairs, upgrades and areas that warrant special monitoring."

Because a two-inch horizontal crack in a part of the main suspension was found in 2005, a special inspection was completed on all such suspension parts. The last check also covered seven other elements: main and floor trusses, rope sockets, expansion joints, cable bents, compression links and wind locks.

"Consistent with the age of the bridge (built in 1969), several areas require attention, owing to age, wear, fatigue, or corrosion. Based on the findings of this (2006) inspection, items to be addressed on a priority basis (in the next construction season)" include: debris and corrosion in and around stiffeners for the suspender rope sockets, and continued monitoring of links and locks, the summary listed.

Main span concerns are: stringer and diaphragm details at the expansion joints; expansion joint seals; loose concrete deck haunches; paint condition; and various repairs to maintenance platforms, according to the public record.

The summary added that other elements of the structure require attention on a non-priority basis and may be addressed as RITBA's budget and construction schedule permits.

RITBA also distributed summaries of its 10-year repair plan adopted in 2005, including electrical updates underway. It was amended some months ago for bridge deck evaluation and engineering, and steel superstructure retrofits, in years to be determined. Also to be scheduled in the next decade are main cable repairs, bearing work, and possibly adding a median barrier. The authority announced just a few weeks ago it was looking into a new electronic toll collection system, commonly known as EZPass.

Work definitely scheduled to be done in the coming decade, for an expected $69 million at the Newport Bridge, includes office renovations, pier repairs, deck and paving projects, tower repairs and painting.

Mount Hope report

The Parsons company of engineers of New York City, inspectors of the 78-year-old Mount Hope Bridge, stated that the structure is also in "generally good condition," described some parts of the bridge as "excellent," outlined work over the past ten years and summarized work to finish the complete rebuilding of that bridge. Steel repairs and tower painting are due to be finished this fall, rocker links will be lubricated to eliminate squeaks, and grease ports will be replaced to complete the project, before a new series of projects is started.

The new work, expected to total $50 million in the coming decade, at Mount Hope involves electrical upgrade; extensive pier repairs, and major painting.

Darlington and Janaros emphasized that age was not a relevant factor, but the amount of monitoring and repair mattered. They specified that Mount Hope has been rebuilt completely, and can be maintained indefinitely, without reaching an end-life status.

They said vigilance was needed and difficult in relation to the "harsh conditions of ocean and weather" that coastal structures face.

Darlington also noted that RITBA bridges are suspension structures, different than the truss engineering used on the Minneapolis bridge, and other structures.

The officials noted that RITBA does not rely on taxpayer funds, but it is subject to the federallymandated National Bridge Inventory.

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