OPINION: RITBA – An ambitious plan for the future of our major bridges


by Buddy Croft, Executive Director, RITBA

The Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority is excited to introduce its new 2017 Ten-Year Renewal and Replacement Plan (10-Year Capital Plan) that will ensure the safety and integrity of the four bridges and other assets under the jurisdiction of RITBA. We embarked on this endeavor because it was not only imperative to the integrity of our bridges but it is an extension of our commitment to maintain these structures to the best of our abilities. This ambitious plan will commence this September with work on the Mount Hope Bridge in Bristol, RI.

The 10–year plan is a robust statement of our agency’s commitment to safety and the community. The Mount Hope Bridge is 87 years old and is on the National Register of Historic Places. The Newport Pell Bridge was completed in 1969. Our other bridges (Jamestown Verrazzano and Sakonnet River) are newer but we must endeavor to preserve and extend the useful lives of these newer bridges as we have with the older bridges. We believe it imperative to be proactive in creating a strategic infrastructure investment and maintenance plan to combat regular wear and tear, adverse New England weather, and even unforeseen circumstances.

The total cost of the 10–Year Capital Plan is $223,417,000 with an average annual cost of $22 million. RITBA will use bonding authority as needed to manage the financial aspects of this plan. Funding for the 10–Year Capital Plan (including bond repayment) will be funded through ongoing toll revenue and RITBA’s annual share of the state gasoline tax (3.5¢ per gallon). The plan includes an assessment of all of the assets owned and maintained by RITBA – the Newport Pell Bridge, the Jamestown Verrazzano Bridge, the Mount Hope Bridge, and Sakonnet River Bridge, Rt .138 from RT 1A in North Kingstown, RI to the Newport Pell Bridge, and all of RITBA administrative and maintenance facilities.

Photo by Barbara Eckstein
Photo by Barbara Eckstein

Proactive maintenance activities such as bridge deck and joint repairs, steel maintenance, rust proofing, painting, crack repair, ensuring the integrity of bridge cables and bearings, and maintaining the pedestrian and crash guardrails for the bridges, roadways and approaches are all elements of this plan that was carefully crafted over the last year. We endeavored to understand the complete health of our bridges and roadways under our control by undertaking extensive safety and maintenance reviews using both RITBA engineering and maintenance staff and outside bridge engineering experts. Together we put together a plan – that at its core –emphasizes the long-term planning needed to maintain the bridges and roadways through continued monitoring, surveillance, and surveying of the bridge decks, girders, cables, and other elements of the bridges’ critical infrastructure.

This is an unprecedented plan for our state and region. We present to you this plan today, so every resident and business in our state and beyond can rely on the safety and security of our bridges for their commuting, vacationing, business and motoring priorities.

Pell Bridge divider

We know that the work to maintain and extend the lives of these bridges will bring with it traffic delays and inconveniences. We apologize for this, but unfortunately traffic interruptions for some of the types of projects we must undertake are unavoidable. The Mount Hope Bridge contains only two lanes – one lane for each travel direction. From a traffic perspective, this makes work such as deck repair and replacement difficult. However, we will do our best to minimize traffic delays. In some instances, when possible, work will be performed overnight. The construction set up each day will be prepared after the evening rush hour and demobilization will be completed before the morning rush hour. Not all of the work can be performed overnight. In other instances work will be done between the morning and afternoon rush hours. We will avoid work during holidays, major festivals and other events that cause heavy traffic across the bridges.

Throughout the process, RITBA will make considered efforts to inform the public of construction activity and potential traffic delays. To do so, we are launching a new initiative where we will provide real-time traffic information on our website: www.ritba.org. This is through a partnership with WAZE, the popular electronic real-time traffic app. Their real-time traffic feed will be embedded in our website to help those who visit the site stay up-to-date with the traffic situation on our roadways and bridges. People will no longer need a “smart phone” to access this information. Our website will also contain information about upcoming construction work and predicted prospective traffic delays. In addition, we will use our social media assets – Twitter and Facebook, to provide traffic updates. We will also continue to notify local and statewide media outlets of anticipated or sudden traffic delays. The media outlets have all been a very good source to keep commuters updated and broadcast this information. It is our hope to minimize the inconvenience by keeping you updated with lane closures, traffic conditions and construction updates throughout the duration of the construction. Our number one priority is your safety, and we intend to maintain and preserve the bridges, while keeping that top-of-mind.