Washington Bridge Closure Crisis

McKee makes several bridge response moves

Governor calls for more federal aid, moves key ally into RIDOT role

By Mike Rego
Posted 1/29/24

Facing mounting scrutiny of his efforts in the matter, specifically, Governor Dan McKee had a busy few days responding to the ever-growing Washington Bridge closure crisis over the last week plus.

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Register to post events

If you'd like to post an event to our calendar, you can create a free account by clicking here.

Note that free accounts do not have access to our subscriber-only content.

Day pass subscribers

Are you a day pass subscriber who needs to log in? Click here to continue.

Washington Bridge Closure Crisis

McKee makes several bridge response moves

Governor calls for more federal aid, moves key ally into RIDOT role


Facing mounting scrutiny of his efforts in the matter, specifically, Governor Dan McKee had a busy few days responding to the ever-growing Washington Bridge closure crisis over the last week plus.

McKee announced earlier this week he had requested more aid, both financial and administrative, from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The governor's office also acknowledged the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Transportation’s inspector general were both “seeking documents and records related to the Washington Bridge” from the R.I. Department of Transportation about its actions prior to and since the sudden closure of the westbound side of the span on December 11, 2023.

In addition, the governor said Joe Almond, his deputy chief of staff, would be his direct representative on the Rhode Island Department of Transportation staff, providing what the governor termed " cross-agency coordination" for the state's operations on the bridge.

Almond, a former police officer, joined the McKee administration after spending 15 years as Lincoln's elected Town Administrator. McKee cited Almond's experience overseeing both municipal construction projects and law enforcement as reasons why he was moved into the role.

The moves came  after McKee and RIDOT Director Peter Alviti  at a January 22 press conference admitted publicly for the first time the potential for a complete replacement of the westbound portion of the 56-year-old structure.

SBA office move
Late last week, McKee said the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Business Recovery Center in East Providence would remain open for the foreseeable future. The office will move from the Weaver Library across Grove Avenue into East Providence City Hall.

A press release from the governor's office noted the move would "allow businesses impacted by the Washington Bridge construction additional time to take advantage of the low-interest Economic Injury Disaster Loans and receive support throughout their application process should they need guidance in appeals or in providing additional information to the SBA."

“We are grateful to the SBA for accepting our offer to stay in East Providence to serve our East Providence and East Bay business communities on this side of the bridge," said East Providence Mayor Bob DaSilva.

The SBA will continue to monitor the number of businesses utilizing resources at the Business Recovery Center in East Providence and will adjust the hours and length of time the center is needed accordingly. SBA representatives are available to connect virtually, as well as in person at a separate Business Recovery Center located at the North Providence Public Safety Complex. As of January 25, 667 businesses have applied for the loans.

“We are very pleased to have the extension of a Business Recovery Center in East Providence. The SBA team in East Providence continues to support small businesses affected by the sudden closure of the Washington Bridge last month,” said SBA Rhode Island Acting District Director Catherine Marx. “I want to thank Mayor DaSilva and his team for their partnership and hospitality. By opening the doors to city hall, the critical assistance of SBA can continue to be provided to those who need it locally."

Economic Injury Disaster Loans are working capital loans, which will carry a 4% interest rate (3.25% for non-profits) with a term of up to 30 years to help minimize the impact on the business’s cash flow. Applications for loans of up to $2,000,000 may be submitted online using the MySBA Loan Portal at https://lending.sba.gov/search-disaster/?disaster=RI-20001 or locally at the SBA Business Recovery Center.

As of Monday, Jan. 29, the SBA Business Recovery Center will operate at East Providence City Hall, located at 145 Taunton Ave., Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m.-4 p.m.., Friday from  8 a.m.-1 p.m.

Rodericks letter
At-Large member and City Council President Bob Rodericks made public a letter he penned to McKee, calling for the governor to use his powers to immediately assist with East Providence's response to the bridge crisis.

Rodericks wrote in part, "...I respectfully request that you consider enacting a 'State of Emergency' declaration. Possibly the US Army Corps of Engineers can expedite the bridge repairs alongside our RIDOT. The Rhode Island National Guard could also help with traffic control to assist with local East Providence Police efforts during peak hours of gridlock.

"The State needs to pause all non-emergency DOT projects throughout R.I. and concentrate all its resources into fixing the Washington Bridge. All efforts need to be focused on this major catastrophe. The everyday livelihood has affected many city, state and regional residents.

It continued, "East Providence is bearing the brunt of this problem. I hope that an emergency declaration will help East Providence be reimbursed for the many expenses the city is incurring. Our neighborhoods, schools, emergency services, our overall infrastructure is suffering and not due to the fault of East Providence government or residents.

"I’m asking the state to reimburse East Providence for all expenses tied to this problem. Our streets are being worn down as many trucks and motorists in the East Bay and nearby Massachusetts are cutting through our side streets and neighborhoods looking for a bypass solution. The state needs to provide necessary resources to repair these streets ASAP once the bridge is repaired."

Police union
As part of the state's response to the bridge crisis, members of the East Providence Police Department who serve traffic details at detours and intersections will be gaining a few extra dollars.

At its meeting last week, the Council approved an amendment to the current contract with the union of officers specific to the bridge-related details allowing for an across-the-board $20 per hour increase in the pay rate. For emphasis, the increase for details pertaining to traffic control measures due to the bridge crisis, nowhere else.

It was noted all of the bridge police detail expenses are being paid for by RIDOT. The city may pay the officers, but will be reimbursed by the state.

Travel advisory
Also of note from law enforcement, the EPPD issued a travel advisory for those motorists who attempt to access I-195 via the Freeborn Avenue ramp off Broadway.

When approaching from the south, police are asking drivers to use utilize the middle lane of travel in addition to the far lefthand lane. The department said it was alerting motorists of their ability to use the middle lane because drivers attempting to get left are creating a log jam that extends into the Warren Avenue intersection.

2024 by East Bay Media Group

Barrington · Bristol · East Providence · Little Compton · Portsmouth · Tiverton · Warren · Westport
Meet our staff

Mike Rego has worked at East Bay Newspapers since 2001, helping the company launch The Westport Shorelines. He soon after became a Sports Editor, spending the next 10-plus years in that role before taking over as editor of The East Providence Post in February of 2012. To contact Mike about The Post or to submit information, suggest story ideas or photo opportunities, etc. in East Providence, email mrego@eastbaymediagroup.com.