Letter: Concerns about the Mt. Hope Bridge

Posted 4/4/24

The failure of the Washington Street Bridge has been extensively reported. It seems there may also be reasons to raise questions about the Mt. Hope Bridge.

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Letter: Concerns about the Mt. Hope Bridge


To the editor:

Rhode Island has the fourth-worst bridges in the country, with 17.3% being structurally deficient. The failure of the Washington Street Bridge has been extensively reported. It seems there may also be reasons to raise questions about the Mt. Hope Bridge.

The Mt. Hope Bridge is one of just three connections to Newport and Aquidneck Island and the only route from the East Bay, used by about 7 million vehicles a year. The bridge has a problem of rusting and broken wires in the main suspension cables that support the roadway, which as a result have lost strength.

A 2021 report by the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority summarized inspections from 1960-2000 that found 744 broken wires out of 2,450 – an alarming 30%. The report mentions a later 2015 inspection but without details. Given all the mistakes and mismanagement with the state’s handing of the Washington Street Bridge, what confidence can we have on the true condition of the Mt. Hope Bridge? 

The RITBA report describes a “load safety factor” of 2.15 as the minimum for safe bridge use. A factor of 2.62 was estimated in 2015. However, the report also states “it is likely this estimate is optimistic and the true safety factor at that time was lower." Was this calculated based on the number of broken wires reported in 2000? Surely more have broken in the 24 years since then.

The RITBA report suggested the safety factor could fall below 2.15 by 2028. There are many important questions that need to be answered, including, what is the current state of wire breakage in the suspension cables? What is the true present safety factor? Are the broken wires concentrated in a particular area or uniformly distributed? How effective were the past repairs done on some of the wires mentioned in the RITBA report? Is it possible to functionally repair a broken wire when the tension will have been released by breaking? Broken wires redistribute their load to remaining ones – given the rusting problems can the remaining wires safely handle the increased burden? If the breakage was due to rusting as stated in the report, can rusted metal be expected to have the ductility and strength of unrusted steel?

The bridge is currently undergoing a dehumidification project to slow the rate of rusting. Is this too little, too late? Is the unpleasant reality that replacement of the suspension cables, or the bridge entirely, must be considered now?

RIDOT Director Peter Alviti functionally had no experience with bridges prior to assuming the post. Recent reports have surfaced indicating engineers were dismissed and replaced with project managers whose prior experiences ranged from working for a furniture store, as a manager at a zoo, and a restaurant and interior designer. Many do not have engineering, construction, or technical degrees, and in some cases have degrees in political philosophy, interior design, and theater. Are these the best people for the job, or is it Rhode Island’s legendary political cronyism?

Tens of thousands of people use the Mt. Hope Bridge every day. We must know its true condition and safety. There are important questions and reasons for concern. Our state legislators should immediately retain a group of engineers to conduct a qualified, independent assessment of the Mt. Hope Bridge. Given the grievous oversights with the Washington Street Bridge debacle and questions regarding some local contractors, this inspection should be done by a group outside the local area, perhaps from New York.

We are all affected by this. The closure of the Mt. Hope Bridge would be devastating to the economy and quality of life of many in Rhode Island. A failure of a suspension cable would be unimaginably catastrophic. Call your state representatives and the Governor and let them know how you feel. Our lives are more important than politics.

Nick Landekic

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A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.