Rhode Island Department of Transportation Director Peter Alviti used the Plainfield Pike bridges in Johnston as a backdrop this past Friday as he kicked off the 2019 construction season, announcing 77 active projects with a cost of $715.6 million.
Gov. Gina Raimondo’s RhodeWorks program, which is aimed at renovating and restoring the state’s roads and bridges, is entering its fourth year. Alviti – flanked by more than a dozen RIDOT workers and Johnston Rep. Deborah Fellela – said this year’s slate is particularly ambitious, with 10 percent of the bridges across Rhode Island seeing some form of construction.
“What that means for travelers is they’ll see more construction on our roads and bridges than any time in Rhode Island DOT’s history,” Alviti said. “The good news is that as each year of this RhodeWorks program goes by, people are seeing the difference that RhodeWorks is making in the conditions of our roads and bridges.”
The ailing state of Rhode Island’s infrastructure, and particularly its bridges, has long been an issue. A CNBC report from last July ranked Rhode Island last in the country in infrastructure, finding 23.2 percent of the state’s bridges were deficient and 70 percent of roads were “in poor or mediocre condition.” The former number was backed up in an American Road & Transportation Builders Association report from this year.
Alviti said this year’s projects are aimed at making a dent in that figure, as the 77 announced projects include 177 bridges. He also noted that the $5 billion program has created hundreds of thousands of jobs in project management, engineering, accounting and finance.
“We don’t want to be at the bottom of that list for long,” Alviti said. “We knew that as we were entering into the RhodeWorks program that 50 years in the making, the state of deficiency of our bridges is going to take some time to get us out, but every bridge that we put in, every project like this is one step further in that direction.”
Alviti said there will be upwards of $85 million in renovations coming to Interstate 295, including the four bridges on Plainfield Pike that were built between 1968 and 1969. RIDOT will build temporary bridges to carry traffic while construction is carried out, which negates the need for long-term lane or exit closures.
Alviti lauded the work of project manager Steven Soderlund and his team. The town will see more work on I-295 through 2021 and 2022, including superstructure replacement for two bridges over Hartford Avenue and two others crossing the Route 6/I-295 interchange. The Greenville Avenue bridges will undergo similar work, as well as “substructure rehabilitation.”
Those projects will be included in the second and third contracts for work on I-295 bridges, which carry an estimated total cost of more than $59 million. Some additional work on I-295 through Johnston and Cranston – including concrete repairs and paving across nine bridges and culverts – will cost about $4.6 million and continue through spring of 2020.
“We planned this project carefully because it’s one of the first places you encounter on the 295 [where it] transitions from three lanes down to two, and to avoid impacting traffic and other impacts, we’re building temporary bridges,” Alviti said, gesturing over his shoulder. “You see the footing’s going in for them behind me here.”
A bridge preservation project that includes nine Johnston bridges is currently in the works as well, slated for a start date of winter 2020 and wrapping up the following year. Debris clearing, steel beam and girder replacements and bridge washing are among the tasks set for that $13.2 million initiative.
A new crosswalk with wheelchair rams and signage on Killingly Street at Leading Street is part of a $2.4 million program expected to start next winter.
“Elsewhere in our projects, we’ll be employing accelerated bridge construction methods to limit the time and the duration that we’re impacting our travelers along the highways,” Alviti said. “Our project management division continues to hit the mark, finishing on time and on budget at a very high percentage … Here we are four years later with the changes that were made in the way we manage these projects, we’re at over 90 percent on time and on budget.”
Fellela, who represents District 43 in Johnston, said she has heard constituent concerns mainly about I-295. However, she’s confident in RIDOT and was appreciative the department chose Johnston as the location of the press conference.
“I know how frustrated people are, but like the director said, I think people realize that the bridges need to be fixed and they do have the patience for it,” Fellela told the Sun Rise. “Just have to plan out a bit, especially going to work in the morning.”
Alviti said the goal is to impact drivers as little as possible, and he said he was a “victim of his own devices” just recently.
“I traveled Thursday during rush hour from Attleboro to Warwick along 295 here, but I’m happy to say through the entire traveling there were some slow periods of travel, but it was always moving and that’s our goal, to keep the traffic moving through our work zones,” Alviti said.
He urged patience from Rhode Islanders on the road, saying that thus far drivers have been accepting of the construction conditions as the state repairs its aging infrastructure.
“I think they know that, while it’s providing them some inconvenience now, in the long run, it’s going to make things safer and easier to travel through Rhode Island,” Alviti said. “We ask them just to hang in there with us for a few more years and we’ll turn all of this beautiful new infrastructure over to them to use and enjoy.”