“Divided highway ahead.” That was the headline at the top of the front page of a local daily newspaper recently. The article that followed did not mention the Newport Pell Bridge. From the perspective of many that must use that bridge often, a decision to make it a divided highway would be welcome news indeed.
Had occasion recently to traverse the Tappen Zee Bridge, across the mighty Hudson River, just north of Manhattan. Twice in one day, one passage in each direction. Those trips across the bridge provided an opportunity to get a good look at the center barrier separating the two directions of traffic that rush by each other.
The lane separator on the Tappen Zee is a clever adaptation of the familiar concrete “Jersey barrier.” Roughly the same size and shape, it is made of much lighter material than concrete. Stronger though, because of the construction techniques incorporated, and the great tensile strength of the lighter material used.
Weight is important in barriers used in bridge applications because the barrier, combined with the traffic load, has to be within the maximum carrying limit of the bridge structure.
Importantly for the operators of the Tappen Zee Bridge, the barrier is movable. It is flexible. Using specially designed equipment, it can be readily moved about on the road surface. This provides a very practical way to adjust the lane allocations depending upon traffic expectations in one direction at particular times. It also allows for safe protection in special situations, such as repair crews working on the bridge. Or a road race across the bridge.
Recently two Rhode Islanders, one a young mother, and one a resident of Jamestown, were killed on the Newport Pell Bridge. The car in which they were traveling was struck head-on by a speeding car whose youthful driver allowed his vehicle, without warning, to abruptly cross into the “wrong” side of the road, and crash head-on into a car, killing two innocent victims on their way home from their work at the Newport Navy base.
A barrier such as that on the Tappen Zee Bridge is designed to prevent such a tragedy. Even a minimalist barrier, such as a noise-creating “chatter strip,” might alert a distracted driver of the errant operation of his or her vehicle.
According to a recent budget published by the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority, the expenditure of funds for a barrier separating opposing lanes of traffic is advisable because of experience with collisions on the Newport Pell Bridge. Unfortunately, the authority has put other expenditures ahead of providing a center barrier protecting the lives of the millions of people who pass over the bridge, a barrier which might have saved the lives of two who died in that horrible crash last October.