Governor leads tour of new Sakonnet River Bridge

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Three days before the opening of the southbound lanes of the new Sakonnet River Bridge, Governor Lincoln Chafee and state Department of Transportation officials went up onto the span for a look around.

A bus delivered the group to the still-empty southbound lanes Monday morning. There, they were able to see cars zipping across the just-opened northbound lanes and listen as the governor spoke about the bridge project and took questions.

"It's a beautiful bridge," Gov. Chafee said. "It's going to be a great gateway to Aquidneck Island.

He praised Cardi Corporation, saying that the "ridge came in on time and on budget — and that's a good thing."

He also thanked residents on both the Potsmouth and Tiverton sides of the bridge for their patience.

Officials noted that he projected southbound opening — this Wednesday or Thursday morning — comes precisely 56 years after the original Sakonnet River Bridge opened on Sept. 26, 1956.

Many of the media questions. though, focused on tolls.

Given what he had heard at meetings in Portsmouth and in a petition that now contains over 20,000 names opposed to the toll plan, has he had second thoughts, the governor was asked.

"I am well aware of the sentiment," the governor said. "They are all legitimate concerns that have been raised ... We will look at it."

But neither he nor DOT Director Michael Lewis would say that their toll stance has changed.

Saying that money to maintain the bridge has to be found somewhere, Mr. Lewis said, "There isn't a do-nothing option."

He said the matter remains under study and that "at least two hearings," one in Portsmouth and one in Tiverton, will be held in late November or early December."

Before the northbound lanes can open, a section of the old bridge that had closed forever last week was being dismantled to make way for the transition. The bridge's resident engineer, Larry Bailey, predicted that the new lanes will open Thursday at around 4 a.m., "but it could be sooner."

Asked about reports that cracks had been found in the bridge deck, he and another DOT spokesman confirmed that small cracks had appeared in the concrete deck but that they had quickly been fixed.

"They are not structural," he said, and fairly typical for such projects. They were filled with an epoxy-like material to keep water out, and then covered with waterproofing layers and the final topcoat of asphalt. The goal, he said, it to keep water out that could corrode the steel below.

There remains a long worklist even after this week's opening of the south-bound lanes.

The bike/pedestrian lane on the sound-bound side will be finished by next September and the old bridge must be removed. Work on the bridge and bike lane approaches ion both sides still needs doing, and the boat ramp underneath the bridge on the Tiverton side will be completed next summer.

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