RIDOT director says ‘preventative maintenance' is key for bridge, road work

NBC 10 News is digging deeper into the construction and congestion on the I-Way bridge, comparing it to similar work being done on the Newport Pell Bridge. (WJAR)

NBC 10 News is digging deeper into the construction and congestion on the I-Way bridge, comparing it to similar work being done on the Newport Pell Bridge.

A reporter wanted to know why, after just 10 years, the $600 million I-Way needs such extensive work.

Peter Alviti, who is the head of the Rhode Island Department of Transportation, said that "regular maintenance" is what's behind the I-Way lane shifts, slowing traffic, creating congestion.

But what kind of maintenance is needed on just a 10-year-old span?

Replacing the expansion joints, according to Alviti.

“The longevity on these particular kinds of joints on these kinds of bridges is about 10 to 12 years,” he said.

The Pell Bridge in Newport is starting to have its deck replaced during the warm weather tourist season, the first of many to come. The timing irks business owners, at the same time replacing its expansion joints, but in this case, for the first time since it was built almost 50 years ago.

Alviti explains the discrepancy by saying “their average traffic there is 28,000 a day. These bridges that are on 195, (which is part of the I-Way,) have 175,000 vehicles a day. That's 640 million vehicles have gone over these (I-Way) bridges in 10 years. There's a lot more movement, a lot more friction, a lot more wear and tear,” than over the Newport Bridge.

If RIDOT deferred maintenance on the I-Way, according to Alviti, in the long run the fix would cost $12 million, instead of $3 million now.

Judging by the comments on the NBC 10 Facebook page, drivers are saying that they're getting “maintenance and construction fatigue” traversing state roadways.

Stephen Lee knows the story all too well.

“It's just horrendous,” Lee said. “People don't let you through because they're too busy rubber-necking.”

Alviti reacts to the fact that there was a multi-mile back-up on Interstate 95 Northbound between Cranston and Providence during the day Thursday, because some storm drains on the left shoulder were being cleared near the Thurbers Avenue curve and beyond. He said that kind of work is a 24-hour a day process.

Short of hiring more workers, “we've got 1100 miles of roadway. If we just restricted ourselves to maintenance during the nighttime hours, we wouldn't be maintaining the entire roadway.”

Just past that backup, compounding the traffic congestion, the lane splits on 195 for the expansion joint replacements. The work is expected to be done by mid-summer.

The 10-year, $4.7 billion Rhode Works Project started last year, with the mission, “We're trying to get ourselves into a routine of preventive maintenance, as opposed for waiting for things to fall apart. We're right now 50th out of 50 in the country with regard to bridges being in a state of disrepair. We got that way because this kind of preventative maintenance wasn't done on a timely basis.”

Alviti thanked the driving public for putting up with the slow-downs, quoting a line he heard at a conference for Department of Transportation Directors.

“While the inconvenience is temporary, I assure you that the improvement will be permanent,” he said.

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