Washington Bridge Closure Crisis

Westbound bridge span must be completely replaced

Demo-rebuild estimated to take two years, cost between $250 million-$300 million

By Mike Rego
Posted 3/14/24

PROVIDENCE — Confirming the worst and what many anticipated, state officials made the public formally aware the closed westbound span of the Washington Bridge is structurally deficient and …

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

Westbound bridge span must be completely replaced

Demo-rebuild estimated to take two years, cost between $250 million-$300 million


PROVIDENCE — Confirming the worst and what many anticipated, state officials made the public formally aware the closed westbound span of the Washington Bridge is structurally deficient and must be completely replaced.

Gov. Dan McKee, Rhode Island Department of Transportation Director Peter Alviti as well as consultants and a representative from the Federal Highway Department confirmed necessary action during a press conference held Thursday afternoon, March 14.

The costs to demolish and replace the entirety of the 56-year-old structure, which connects the East Bay and southeastern Massachusetts on Interstate 195 with I-95 in Providence, are currently estimated to be between $250 million to $300 million.

The governor said the remainder of the initial $78 million earmarked in 2018 for the renovation of the westbound side will give the state a starting pot of money. Some $35 million has been spent with approximately $43 million left to be used towards the new construction.

Again, a preliminary timeline would see the lead contractor put in place by July with the teardown to commence in late summer/early fall. The process of constructing the new bridge, its main and substructures, would take place concurrently with a completion date potentially coming in the spring of 2026 or by summer 2026.

"We're here today to talk about a plan of action on the Washington Bridge and a commitment to insure that accountability will come," said McKee. "As I've said from the start, we're going to fix the bridge, do it right and keep people safe."

The governor said all of the findings and final recommendations of consultants over the last three months, since the westbound side closure was announced on December 11, 2023, have been "thoroughly reviewed" and that they "reinforced without a doubt" the decision to completely rebuild the bridge was "essential for public safety."

Jeff Mehle, a Partner and Principal Engineer at the Connecticut-based engineering firm of McNary Bergeron & Johannesen, led a presentation on the structural integrity of the bridge.

He said there's more wrong with the bridge than just the vertical tie-downs/rods, which caused the initial concern and led to the closure three months, and that several other elements "cannot viably be repaired."

Mehle said the "superstructure," the deck and girders, must be removed and replaced and that "part or all" of the substructure, the piers and foundations, must be replaced.

Mehle continued, the demolition would take approximately eight months. The design and build should work concurrently beginning in early 2025 with a tentative completion date in the spring of 2026 or by summer that year.

Alviti, who stated his intention to remain in his position and also received the backing of the governor, said officials "now have a solid plan of action to rebuild a modern bridge that will be safe and lasting for 100 years."

The aim is to have an "owner's representative," a firm with the state's interests at the fore, on board in two weeks. Alviti stressed the timeframe and cost are preliminary at this point and most likely will change as the project moves forward.

Alviti said the state will enter into a "competitive bid process" and will seek a contractor with the "experience and best bid value."

The director concurred with the consultant's projection of having the design build team in place by end of July, adding "we should have a better handle of time and cost at that point."

He added, the state will hire a firm with the "best combination of fastest completion date and quality of the finish project...the fastest completion is going to be a major important component to the selection."

The expectation, Alviti continued, is to have the new bridge be "substantially completed with traffic flowing between March and September 2026."

Of how the new span will be paid for, Alviti said "all funding options are being considered," federal grants and appropriations as well through the state's coffers.

As for the accountability element, Alviti said the "process of looking back" should take just two weeks to review and to offer recommendations.

"Those responsible will be held accountable swiftly and definitively," Alviti added.

Part of that review is legal, with the United States Department of Justice currently conducting an investigation, with which Alviti said RIDOT "is fully cooperating."

As for what happens in the short term, the director said the plan to turn the completely separate eastbound Washington Bridge span into six lanes of travel, three in each direction, will be completed within the next five weeks.

City officials and members of the General Assembly also offered remarks.

"I think what the people in the community wanted was an idea of what the next steps were," said East Providence Mayor Bob DaSilva. "Not that there's a timeline, they can make plans. They can adjust."

Providence Mayor Brett Smiley added he was encouraged by the new traffic pattern being set up on the eastbound side of the bridge and also urged residents from around the state to support local businesses, calling it their "civic responsibility" to assist their neighbors who are the owners and employees of those entities.

The East Providence State Senate delegation consisting of 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) later issued the following statement:

“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.”

Rep. Matt Dawson (D-Dist. 65, East Providence) followed up with his own comment, "I’d say this is dreadful news, but not unexpected. The first priority is to get this bridge rebuilt as soon as possible. That being said, those responsible for neglecting the bridge and allowing its state of disrepair will be identified and held to account."

2024 by East Bay Media Group

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

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.