TIVERTON — The only bridge that Tiverton owns — Pond Bridge at the south end of Nonquit Pond — is in “critical condition” and in serious need of repairs.
It could be a race against time for the bridge. Repairs may not be possible before the bridge may have to to be closed or posted with weight limits.
Adding to the uncertainty is the likelihood that limited state loan funds may already be spoken for by other towns whose needs are considered more serious by state bridge inspectors.
“The bottom of the bridge is rotting out,” Department of Public Works (DPW) Director Steve Berlucch told the Town Council at its last meeting in November. “I don’t think it’s going to fall down, but I don’t know.”
On the bridge last week, Mr. Berlucchi pointed to asphalt patches on the surface of the road. “The patches correspond to exposed rebar underneath,’ he said.
The bridge is about 78 years and was built in 1935-39, reads a faded plaque from the WPA (Works Progress Administration) that’s fastened to the concrete railing.
In response to Mr. Berlucchi’s warning, the council unanimously approved a loan request to the state for $125,000 to replace the bridge deck, a request currently pending before the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT), which sets the priorities, and the Rhode Island Clean Water Finance Agency (RICWFA), which hands out the money and administers the municipal road and bridge repair loan fund.
There’s only about $6.5-$6.9 million in loan funds available to spread around among all the towns in the state asking for help.
There are 13 other municipalities in the state with road and bridge repair project requests ranked ahead of Tiverton’s, and the total of their loan requests is about $15.9 million, according to RICWFA.
“We’ll go down the list until we run out of money,” said William Sequino Jr., executive director of RICWFA last Friday.
The money could be gone well before Tiverton’s name even comes come up.
Mr. Sequino said his agency is interviewing all municipalities that have applied for loans, “to see if they even have the ability to borrow funds” under their local charters.
“If they don’t, we go down the list to the next one,” he said.
The priority list of projects that have a higher priority than Tiverton’s includes Newport ($1 million), Warwick ($1.6 million), Middletown ($3 million), Pawtucket ($7 million), and a number of others ranging from $340,000 top $450,000.
Mr. Sequino said funding of eligible projects will made to the full extent of each request; funding allocations will not be partial or negotiated downwards. He said he hopes the approvals will be made by February 24, the date of RICWFA’s next board meeting.
Importance of the bridge
The 40-foot-long bridge across the southern outlet of Nonquit Pond is on Pond Bridge Road, which connects Main Road to Puncatest Neck Road. It’s a key link to farms and beaches west of the pond.
The bridge, wrote Mr. Berlucchi in the loan application to RICWFA, “is heavily used by local farmers to transport their crops to market. Farming tractors and equipment cross the bridge constantly for farming purposes. The closure or posting of Pond Road Bridge will have a severe impact on the economy of the farming community in the area because of transportation issues.”
The road also serves, he wrote, “as the main and most direct route to the Town’s Fogland Beach and recreational area.”
Even in the unlikely event that the Pond Bridge project were to be funded this year, Mr. Berlucchi said it would probably be another year or year and a half before construction could start.
Bridge design, advertising a request for proposals, permitting, and clearances with the Department of Environmental Management and the Coastal Resources Management Council all would take time.
Construction would take about two months, Mr. Berlucchi said, during which time the bridge would be closed.
The bridge was last inspected in 2011, and is scheduled for another this year or in 2015
“The worse it gets, the more frequent the inspections will be,” Mr. Berlucchi said.
And is evident from recent reports, the deterioration is progressing more rapidly.
In short, posting or closure could be required before the fixes could be made
What’s wrong with the bridge
Following the most recent inspection last May 7 and 8, 2013, RIDOT engineers reported numerous deficiencies, and a worsening of the bridge’s condition from what had been reported just two years previously in 2011.
Various components of the bridge are rated (e.g. deck, sub-structure, superstructure, abutments, etc.).
“Based on the results of this inspection,” they wrote about last May’s, “the bridge overall has been lowered from poor (rated 4) to critical (rated 2).”
In correspondence to the council in November, Mr. Berlucchi said the bridge inspection rating scale runs “from a 10 which is new to a 1 which is basically unusable.”
Because of Pond Bridge’s recent ratings, and further decline, he said, “I expect the bridge to be posted for lesser weights in the future or possibly closed.”
The inspection report says there are cracks in the deck, the concrete railings, and the abutments. It says the underside of the deck shows “exposed and corroded rebar, concrete discoloration” and further cracking.
Steel beams underneath have lost their concrete encasements, and in places there is separation between the beams and the deck undersides.
“The condition rating for the superstructure was lowered from poor (rated 4) to critical (rated 2)” due to these losses, said the report.
The town’s loan request says that the proposed project includes the removal of the existing bridge deck, ands its replacement with a prefabricated concrete deck. The bridge abutments, says the request, are considered by RIDOT to be “in satisfactory condition and could be reused.”
Dick Hart, a long-time former town council member who lives next to the bridge, said the problems with the bridge started about 1990, “little cracks here and there, showing up.”
“It’s one of these thing the town doesn’t get to each year. They’re easy to postpone.”