2017-05-11 / Front Page

Work will limit Newport bridge

Single lanes only as 8-year, $45M project begins

Work on the Newport Bridge will begin Monday on the opposite side of the span from Jamestowners. It will be a two-lane road through June. Work on the Newport Bridge will begin Monday on the opposite side of the span from Jamestowners. It will be a two-lane road through June. The Newport Pell Bridge is being downsized into a two-lane road while workers launch the monumental task of replacing the span’s 50-year-old deck.

The Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority announced the project during a press conference Monday morning at its headquarters on Conanicus Avenue. According to chief engineer Eric Offenberg, delays are imminent and oversized vehicles will have to find an alternate route onto Aquidneck Island. This first phase, which will cost $8.13 million, begins a project that could take eight years and cost $45 million.

“This is a significant project and it’s the first of many to come,” Offenberg said. “You are going to see delays. We are going to have backups.”

Although the 11,247-foot bridge will undergo this massive overhaul, the work is proactive, not reactive, according to Buddy Croft, the agency’s executive di- rector

“The structure is safe,” he said. “I can’t stress this enough.”

The first phase to repair 2,000 feet of decking on the eastern foot of the bridge in Newport will be broken into three segments. The first sequence begins Monday with workers from Aetna Bridge Company using hydrodemolition to remove the top 4 inches of concrete from the 8-inch deck. According to Offenberg, testing revealed the bottom half doesn’t have to be replaced. The curb-to-curb treatment will be done using high-powered water jets, which blasts away the deteriorated concrete. Through June, this will require 24/7 lane closures, making the bridge a one-way road in both directions. Moreover, the speed limit will be reduced to 25 mph. The bridge, however, will be reopened temporarily to four lanes for Memorial Day weekend.

Since the deck was engineered to last 30 years, the bridge authority has extended that life another two decades by filling potholes and fixing cracks on a need-by-need basis. However, the entire bridge has become essentially patchwork, Offenberg said.

“There’s not a heck of a lot of room for more patches,” he said.

While traffic will be limited to single lanes during this sequence, overwide and overweight vehicles will be banned from the span altogether. Any vehicle wider than 8 feet 6 inches or heavier than 80,000 pounds will be prohibited through June. In July and August, wide vehicles will be permitted on the bridge, but the ban will be reinstituted from Sept. 19 through mid-December. This closure does not affect the Newport International Boat Show.

Overweight vehicles, however, will not be allowed to traverse the bridge through the new year. State troopers will be on-site 24/7 enforcing these regulations.

The second sequence of phase one will include bearing replacements underneath the eastern approach. Because this will happen during the height of tourist season, work will be done from barges in the water and there will be no lane closures. The final phase from Sept. 19 through December includes more hydrodemolition. For a second time, the bridge will become a two-lane road with a reduced speed limit.

During lane closures, Offenberg said commuters should prepare for 15-minute delays. He said motorists should prepare for their commute ahead of time, suggesting the real-time app on the agency’s website that shows up-to-date traffic.

“If you can come a little earlier or leave a little later, that’s really going to help you out,” he said.

Nearly 2.1 miles long, the span is the longest suspension bridge in New England. Built from steel and concrete and completed in 1969, the structure has been the victim of saltwater deterioration, heavy tourist traffic and erratic Northeastern weather.

“The bridge has a tremendous economic impact on Aquidneck Island and our state,” Croft said. “It’s an engineering marvel that needs constant care and maintenance. These repairs will have an impact on the traffic in the area. We’ll do our very best to mitigate that.”

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