2017-11-16 / Front Page

Repairs done early; no 24/7 lane closures until spring ’19


Contractors mill concrete near the rebar at the eastern approach of the Pell Bridge after hydro-demolishing 6 inches of concrete. 
RHODE ISLAND TURNPIKE AND BRIDGE AUTHORITY Contractors mill concrete near the rebar at the eastern approach of the Pell Bridge after hydro-demolishing 6 inches of concrete. RHODE ISLAND TURNPIKE AND BRIDGE AUTHORITY Work on the eastbound approach to restore decking on the Newport Pell Bridge was completed nearly a month ahead of schedule, ending the frustrating 24/7 lane closures that have plagued motorists since spring.

The iconic 2-mile span, which looms over the East Passage of Narragansett Bay, opened to its full capacity Friday morning, with two lanes of traffic traveling in both directions.

While there will be temporary lane closures as the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority continues its monumental eight-year project, the permanent shutdowns will not resurface until 2019.

“We have been blessed with the weather,” said Eric Offenberg, the agency’s chief engineer. “The contractor has really worked diligently.”

The project, which began in May before a summer-long hiatus, reconvened after Labor Day. The work replaced the dilapidated 50-year-old concrete from curb to curb for 1,000 feet on the Newport side. The contractor, Aetna Bridge Company, removed the road down to the rebar using high-powered water jets, then poured fresh concrete over the top.

“It looks great,” Offenberg said. “We’ll get another 30 to 50 years out of that deck.”

While deck work has temporarily ended, work beneath the bridge will continue into the spring. The steel bearings, which date to the original 1969 construction, are being replaced with modern elastomeric bearings.

According to Offenberg, the fall phase finished ahead of schedule because of lessons learned from the innovative hydro-demolition work done in the spring. Workers at the onset were milling about an first inch of concrete alongside the water jets that washed away the remaining 5 inches. The second time around, however, they scaled back the milling process because it was damaging the rebar. Workers also were more comfortable with the challenging grade of the eastern approach.

“This was the hardest end of the bridge to do because of the curve and super elevation,” he said.

The cleanup process also was tweaked. Workers in the spring sucked up debris using a vacuum truck. Because the vehicle’s range was limited, Offenberg said, they were vacuuming 100 feet from the truck, which was affecting the suction strength.

During the second phase, however, workers sprayed the debris toward the truck using a fire-hose. Finally, weather in the 60s opposed to the 40s allowed the concrete to cure in five days instead of a full week. That saved workers about two days for each of the five pours, he said.

Offenberg said commuters, like the workers, became more tolerant as the project progressed. “There was a lot of road rage,” he said. “People don’t like being in traffic. But during the second phase, they were incredible. People changed their schedules, they became polite, and traffic decreased.”

While there were no serious accidents, Offenberg said there were “quite a number of fender benders.”

The next phase of the project will include a thorough inspection of the main suspension cable in the spring. “That will tell us the overall health of the bridge, which we expect to be great,” Offenberg said.

If the evaluation is worse than expected, however, the agency might use orthopedic steel in lieu of concrete because it’s a lighter material. The project will be put out to bid when that is determined. Work is expected to reconvene in spring 2019.

The overall eight-year project is estimated to cost $45 million; the 2017 work, which included the spring and fall phases along with the bearing replacements, totaled $8.5 million.

While the permanent lane closures are no longer in effect, ongoing maintenance will require temporary daily lane closures between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. These closures, however, are standard and don’t affect rush-hour traffic. Also, wide loads are allowed to traverse the bridge, but overweight vehicles are restricted through the new year.

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