McKee was unaware of the need for bridge closure until just before it happened

Work proceeds on repairing the crippled Washington Bridge in Providence. Photo by Steve Klamkin WPRO News

By Steve Klamkin WPRO News

Governor Dan McKee said he found out about the need to close the Washington Bridge to traffic due to safety concerns when critical failures were detected just minutes before the shutdown was implemented late on the afternoon December 11, he told WPRO’s Matt Allen in an interview Thursday afternoon.

The bridge closure has caused persistent traffic backups and headaches for travel between Providence and East Providence.

“On December 11th I got a text from the Director (Peter Alviti at the Department of Transportation) saying “I needed to talk to you”. By the time I got him on the phone, it was maybe a minute after that, we stayed on the phone for ten or 15 minutes. It was very clear that the only option was to close the bridge down, fully aware of the complications of the messaging,” McKee said.

Asked by Allen if he felt he was “left out to dry by the DOT here for getting late notice”, McKee replied, “I think normal procedure is once you know you’ve got a problem, you talk to the Governor’s office, and that didn’t happen.”

Earlier this week, McKee assigned his Senior Deputy Chief of Staff Joseph Almond to the DOT to coordinate state agency responses after the U.S. Department of Justice demanded all records leading up to and following the Washington Bridge closure.

Earlier on Thursday, Transportation Director Alviti said he did not know on the Monday that he consulted with McKee and ordered the Washington Bridge to be closed that engineers had discovered critical damage to the span the previous week, worked through the weekend on calculations and presented him with the information that morning.

“My god, if they had (told him sooner) we would have taken action when they told us that, but no. There was no mention of there being any possibility of critical failures here,” Alviti told WPRO’s Gene Valicenti during Thursday morning’s “Ask the DOT” segment.

Alviti has estimated that engineers will report by late February or mid March what work will be needed and whether the crippled bridge can be repaired, or will have to be replaced. He said on Thursday that one option could be to reopen the bridge to traffic, while repairs are made, or a new bridge is planned and built.

“We’re waiting for the facts to come out, but they’re looking at that as one of the potential options, yes,” Alviti said.

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