Accountability is sorely lacking in the I-195 fiasco

By Arlene Violet
Posted 1/30/24

The condition of the west bound lanes on I-195 and the subsequent snarl of traffic has unleashed a furious fusillade of accusations and excuses by those in charge. Tens of thousands of daily …

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Accountability is sorely lacking in the I-195 fiasco


The condition of the west bound lanes on I-195 and the subsequent snarl of traffic has unleashed a furious fusillade of accusations and excuses by those in charge. Tens of thousands of daily commuters are stuck in traffic because – OOPS! – the structural integrity of that side of the bridge is undermined. Well, the chickens have come home to roost!

For almost 40 years I have either as Attorney General charged and convicted contractors for substandard but billed work that was never done or written in this column about the continuing saga in this state where politicians and the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) wink at the construction companies’ noncompliance with engineering standards.

Before there was an I-195 westbound lane problem, there was the Route 403-Davisville access road fiasco. The Providence Journal revealed that its construction had key structural parts below specifications, which led the federal highway administration to refuse to pay its allocation. Eight times RIDOT overlooked the pounds per square inch (PSI) requirements at a substantive level.

The then-RIDOT supervisor shrugged off the unsafe work by saying that requiring adherence to the specifications would result in the project being delayed! Route 403 had 17 other key structural deficiencies that flunked AASHTO (American Association of State Highways and Transportation Officials). The contractor also put in defective abutment footings far below minimum standards on an off-ramp from Route 403. A concrete beam was 25 percenet below standards and was one of only four beams to hold up the off-ramp.

The IWAY itself had chunks of the concrete deck falling into the Providence River because the cement was sub-standard. The contractor also installed defective railings and then turned around and billed the state for at least two and a half years for jersey barriers to prevent drivers from hitting the railing and landing in the drink. WPRI reported that the steel reinforcement bars were apparently cut and that anchor bolts were installed AFTER the reinforcing steel was already in place.

So now we have this circus where no heads will roll except for the noggins of the commuters. The villain of the above IWAY mistakes blew the whistle on the fact that for three years Rhode Island has known of the problem with its repair strategy that would ultimately result in the “pins” to fail. The engineering report warning of the problem is part of the record, so political obfuscation isn’t working.

Also, am I the only one who is chagrined about the fact that Massachusetts-based Barletta Construction Company, who has won many of the largest construction contracts, got this no-bid contract to “repair” the bridge after it was civilly charged by federal authorities with dumping contaminated soil in an inner-city neighborhood? Attorney General Peter Nehrona has also charged the company criminally for the dumping, which didn’t prevent the favored treatment of this malefactor.

Such is the mentality in this state on transportation projects: “Cut corners, get paid anyway and come back for more goodies.”

Instead of being accountable and acknowledging any mistake for this failure, the Governor embarked instead on a quasi-political campaign, using public funds, where he urged citizens to buy local. Of course, this could have been averted if people simply did their respective jobs.

Arlene Violet is an attorney and former Rhode Island Attorney General.

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