Attorney calls for median on Newport Bridge
Jamestown attorney John Murphy at Wednesday’s bridge authority board meeting spoke about the need for a median barrier on the Newport Pell Bridge, saying one may have prevented the death of two people in a head-on collision last October.
“Whether it was sleep or distraction that caused the accident,” he told the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority’s board of directors, “a median barrier, even a barrier that only creates noise when it is crossed, could have very well prevented the collision.”
Murphy spoke during the portion of the meeting set aside for public comments. He was there representing the Prior and Meunier families, who both had family members killed in the collision. Kathleen Meunier, 48, of Warwick, was killed instantly. Kenneth Prior, 65, of Columbia Lane, Jamestown, died two hours later at Rhode Island Hospital. Prior was developmentally disabled and worked in the Navy commissary stocking shelves. Meunier, a coworker, was driving him home.
“Other boards responsible for bridges such as yours, with length and width considerations, have found creative ways to protect travelers in opposite lanes,” Murphy said. “One example is the Jersey barrier on the Tappen Zee Bridge. It is narrow, lightweight and flexible. And it serves to keep cars from crossing over into the other lane.”
The accident on Oct. 21 took place at 10:45 p.m. A teenage boy, with his twin brother in the passenger seat, was driving home to Middletown from a Bishop Hendricken football game when his car driving eastbound veered into the westbound lane striking Meunier’s car head-on.
“For an unknown cause,” said Murphy, “the driver was traveling in excess of 62 mph (the speed limit on the bridge is 45 mph) and crossed the center line, over two lanes of travel, and smashed headon to a car being operated lawfully by Kathy Meunier.”
State police ruled out drugs, alcohol and vehicle defect. Police found two cell phones in the teen’s car. One of the phones had been used for texting during the trip from Warwick to the Newport Bridge.
“We can speculate that the driver fell asleep or was distracted,” said Murphy. “Common sense tells me that the boys didn’t do this willfully. Some barrier, even one that just causes noise, may have woken up the sleeping driver or alerted a distracted driver. It may have prevented this horrific collision.”
Murphy pointed to item 23 in RITBA’s summary of capital expenditure plans. It reads, “The Newport Bridge was originally constructed without a center median barrier. [A contractor] is performing a study of various barrier systems as well as exploring the merits and structural implications of adding a median barrier to enhance traffic safety.”
The summary continues by saying that initial findings are that there are a significant number of vehicular accidents that include crossing into opposing traffic lanes. “As a means of minimizing the number and severity of crossover accidents, a median is required.”
Murphy said that the bridge authority already realizes the importance of a barrier. “The board has demonstrated that barriers of this type are adequate to support a very important safety feature,” he said. “That’s why you have them here at the new toll plaza.”
Murphy requested that the board provide him with a list of the ve- hicle collision on the Newport Bridge involving vehicles crossing the center line. He also requested that the board provide him with a copy of all studies, recommendations and budgets calling for the installation of a median barrier on the bridge.
“State police said that the accident could have happened at any time, to any of us,” said Murphy. “Our request is that the median barrier gets installed right away.”
David Darlington, the chairman of the board, said that because Murphy addressed the board during public comments, it wasn’t appropriate to hold a back-andforth at that time. He said that they would look into it.
“One death on the roadway is too much,” Darlington said.