Bridge replacement could take "a year or two" says top federal highway official

Federal Highway Administrator Shailen Bhatt talks with reporters after touring the crippled Washington Bridge February 5, 2024 with local and state officials. Photo by Steve Klamkin WPRO News

By Steve Klamkin WPRO News

If engineers determine that the crippled Washington Bridge will have to be replaced, the job is going to take “a year or two”, says the head of the Federal Highway Administration. That following a tour of the span today, from Administrator Shailen Bhatt.

“To take down a structure and repair it and keep things as minimally impacted, you’re looking at a year or two. But, you know, that’s something that we’ll be closely monitoring if that’s the way we go,” said Bhatt on Monday, following a brief tour of the span with members of the Rhode Island Congressional delegation, Gov. Dan McKee and mayors of Providence and East Providence.

“The reason that I came up here today is because of the transition from a repair to a potential replacement,” Bhatt told reporters on the Gano Street ramp leading to the bridge, used by crews assessing the damage and carrying out work on the bridge.

“And, what we saw up there is, I think we have seven firms that are working to as quickly as possible get the bridge open, Bhatt said.

Several groups of engineers are analyzing the damage to the bridge, which was detected last December, prompting the bridge to be closed to traffic ever since.

In the meantime, Mayor Brett Smiley appealed to truckers not to come off the highway because heavy trucks leave too much wear and tear on city streets.

“We still have 18 wheelers, tractor-trailers who don’t need to be in Providence that are crossing through Providence and doing real harm to our city streets, which is like the ripple effect of this closure,” Smiley told reporters following the tour. He added that he does not have the power to order trucks not to travel over city streets.

Governor Dan McKee said that it’s too soon to say whether or not a lane shift initiated over the weekend to ease westbound traffic is working, state Department of Transportation officials are still assessing the shift, suggested by a constituent to East Providence Mayor Bob DaSilva.

Crews work on the Washington Bridge February 5, 2024, nearly two months after the span was closed to traffic when potentially catastrophic structural problems were discovered. Photo by Steve Klamkin WPRO News