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Washington Bridge: “We understand the problem – and we have a plan to fix it”

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A 3pm press conference revealed the future of the Washington Bridge – and the future of so many Rhode Islanders as they make their way around and about the state. Watch it, here:

Washington Bridge update – https://fb.watch/qP0RRYxsIk/

The presentation began with the summary – the Westbound side of the Washington Bridge will need to be rebuilt. Not everything is clear about what embedded in concrete or in the water will need replacing, but that will be uncovered as the project moves along.

The superstructure will need to be replaced and possibly all of the substructure, though some may be retained.

The project is estimated to take 2+ years and cost $250-$350 Million – plus other costs as yet unknown.

Governor McKee was firm in saying that accountability is a major priority and will be uncovered “soon”, taking it wherever it goes, including legal channels.

Peter Alviti, Director of RIDOT says we now have a plan to replace a bridge that will last us 100 years. A new consulting firm will be sought to provide fresh perspectives and provide expert analysis and oversight. This “New Owner’s Rep” will be on board in 2 weeks. ComPetitive bids will be taken all around on demolition which will be a complex process of deconstruction, to be chosen by end of April. In parallel RFPs will go out for design & build contract for the new bridge, with the goal of selection by end of July. Looking for fastest completion date, quality of finished project and price.

Completion with traffic flowing by March of 2026. Demolition and construction in the $250-$350 Million. Funding formula to be determined which will include federal DOT funds. There will be an 80/20 split with the federal government and the state is hoping for more.

RIDOT reiterates they have built over 300 bridges in the past 7 years. Prior to 7 years, it was less than 50% of on-time, on-budget. In 2023, the department was 100% on time and on budget.

“All responsible parties that contributed to any negligence will be held accountable for this,” Alviti said, as the forensic analysis is completed.

Gov. McKee took questions from the press.

Gov. promises to hold those accountable, accountable, in legal ways. “The day of reckoning may be slow in some ways, but we will get to the end”. Legal team is now being assembled. Gov. seems confident that he knows who or what company is responsible.

Gov. says he has confident in RIDOT to complete the project.

Businesses are asking what will be available for them to help them get through.

Gina Raimondo’s leadership came up and the Governor promised to hold those accountable, even if it goes back in time. Rhode Works was mentioned.

Sect. Buttigieg will be coming to Rhode Island.

Mayor DaSilva of East Providence spoke about the next steps for their community, to try and bring resources to bear for their businesses, including a small business forum.

Mayor Smiley of Providence spoke about resilience of the city residents. They have a menu of options for detour routes, fixing temporary signs and traffic cones, etc. Smiley encouraged people to support their local businesses. Looking forward to the temporary bridge travel to begin in a couple of weeks.

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Official statement from Governor McKee

Governor Dan McKee, Rhode Island Department of Transportation Director Peter Alviti, and the Governor’s Senior Deputy Chief of Staff T. Joseph Almond held a briefing to share the findings of the structural analysis and the recommendation for the future of the Washington Bridge. A separate forensic analysis of the causes behind the bridge failure is currently underway and will provide the Administration with further insight into accountability in the coming weeks.

Since the two failed tie-rods were found in December 2023, an in-depth inspection of the bridge was performed by a team of engineering companies and reviewed by McNary, Bergeron & Johannesen, a third-party bridge construction firm hired at the direction of the Governor. These findings reinforce that the Administration’s decision to close the bridge on December 11, was absolutely essential to public safety.

The report identified additional, significant structural deficiencies that cannot viably be repaired. After reviewing the report in totality, McNary, Bergeron & Johannesen concurred with the recommendation that the westbound side of the Washington Bridge be replaced. According to a presentation by Jeff Mehle, an engineer with the firm, this decision means that the bridge’s superstructure must be demolished and replaced and that part, if not all, of the bridge’s substructure may also need to be replaced. 

“Rhode Islanders deserve answers, accountability, and a plan of action to restore normalcy to their daily lives. That is what we will deliver,” said Governor Dan McKee. “It is very important to me that Rhode Islanders have confidence in the findings and the recommendation for a path forward for the Washington Bridge. That is why I made sure that a third-party expert, unaffiliated with any current construction projects in Rhode Island, was able to oversee and review all the information gathered for this report.”

The initial cost estimate for the demolition and bridge replacement is between $250 million and $300 million. Both the demotion and the design-rebuild will be put out to bid to ensure the best use of taxpayer funds. A new bridge could be completed within 18 to 24 months of a contract award according to initial estimates.

Governor McKee continues to welcome oversight from various entities, including the Department of Justice, the Federal Highway Administration, and the Rhode Island General Assembly. 

“I am deeply disturbed by the additional structural deficiencies identified by the in-depth review of the bridge,” Governor McKee added. “When we have all the facts, we will hold any responsible parties fully accountable. The day for accountability will come.”  

To view the structural analysis, McNary, Bergeron & Johannesen’s review and the presentation from today’s briefing click here, and scroll down to the bottom of the page to the section titled ‘Additional Information & Graphics.’

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Reactions from the community

RI Hospitality Association:

“The RI Hospitality Association is deeply concerned about the potential impact the Washington Bridge tear down will have on Businesses in the East Bay. We are undertaking a number of initiatives designed to assist the hospitality community as a whole, including: discussions with state leaders to find solutions aimed at easing the revenue shortfalls that many hospitality Businesses are experiencing due to the closure; reopening our Employee Relief Fund, which was established during the pandemic to provide temporary financial assistance to hospitality employees; and offering hospitality Businesses in the East Bay, who are not members, with a free 12-month membership to the RI Hospitality Association. 

We will begin meeting with affected hospitality businesses early next week, to learn about their specific needs and develop the best course of action. Information on our programs can be found on our website: www.rihospitality.org.”

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East Providence Senators

“Now that we have a clear path forward, it is critical that we move as expeditiously as possible to replace the bridge. Safety is our paramount concern. At the same time, we need to explore every option to provide relief to residents who have experienced such tremendous disruption to their lives and livelihoods, from improving temporary traffic patterns to supporting local businesses. We will continue to advocate for transparency and accountability. We look forward to a hearing on legislation we submitted to ensure our constituents receive timely, thorough information about the timeline involved and the steps being taken to alleviate traffic and other concerns while work continues. We look forward to reviewing the forensic report.”

The East Providence delegation to the Senate consists of Senate Majority Whip Valarie J. Lawson (D – Dist. 14, East Providence), Robert Britto (D – Dist. 18, East Providence, Pawtucket), and Pamela J. Lauria (D – Dist. 32, Barrington, Bristol, East Providence).

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Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi and President Dominick J. Ruggerio statement 

“The closure of the Washington Bridge has caused tremendous disruption to the lives of residents across our state, and particularly those who live and work in the East Bay. First and foremost, we want to commend the members of the East Bay delegations in the General Assembly for their outstanding engagement on behalf of their constituents. They have helped ensure that residents are equipped with as much knowledge as possible, and worked to ease traffic burdens, economic impacts and other disruptions. We will work with our federal delegation to expedite this application for approval under the current Administration in Washington.  We caution that the costs cited today are only estimates, and as we have seen in so many projects, construction costs have often exceeded original estimates.”

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