Rhode Island Department of Transportation Director Peter Alviti took the brunt of the blame for the calamity created as he was peppered with questions about the status of the Washington Bridge from …
Rhode Island Department of Transportation Director Peter Alviti took the brunt of the blame for the calamity created as he was peppered with questions about the status of the Washington Bridge by members of the respective Oversight Committees from the House and Senate during a joint meeting of the groups Monday afternoon, Feb. 12.
"This one is an anomaly...I accept full responsibility," Alviti said, referring to how quickly and devastatingly the 56-year-old structure fell into deep disrepair.
The inquiries, which were civil, followed remarks made by Alviti, Joe Almond and Jeff Klein. Almond, who mostly served as deputy chief of staff for Gov. Dan McKee, was appointed by the state's chief executive as his office's main envoy for the bridge crisis. Klein is the Director of Structural Engineering for the Providence-based engineering and construction firm of Vanasse Hangen Brustlin Inc., VHB.
Not a ton of new ground was covered.
Klein gave a brief description on what is now being done by the partners in the effort. He said the focus at the moment is to determine why and how critical components called "tie downs," previously referred to as "pins," on the Piers 6 and 7 of the cantilever-style bridge failed. The tie downs keep the road deck properly positioned and balanced. Klein said the results of the analysis are expected to be turned over to RIDOT by the end of the current month, February.
Alviti, as could be expected, did most of the talking. He made mention in his opening statement of his department's goals, which include instructing his staff to come up with a solution to the closed westbound side of the bridge "quickly...but not to compromise."
He did note it was upon the discovery of the faulty "tie downs" that the greater and more significant damage to the substructure was found.
The director said the continued focus for RIDOT engineers is working with their counterparts in government and the private section to "do all that they can to get traffic moving better" and to "mitigate" any more significant delays for drivers.
"The mission is to get people's lives back to where they were before the closure," Alviti said, referencing the December 11, 2023 date he, his staff and the governor took the decision to shutter the four-lane west side of the bridge built in 1968.
He continued, "And I assure you we're going to do this as quickly as possible while keeping people safe."
Alviti went over some previously covered ground, noting that the bridge was shut down going on 10 weeks now upon finding several tension rods had become severely structurally deficient. He stressed the ongoing review of the matter will include why, how, when and what caused the structure to fail to such an extent.
The director, who touted the success of the "RhodeWorks" infrastructure initiative the state began back in 2016 under former governor Gina Raimondo, said the design and construction of the structure of the westbound side of the bridge has made its repair as well as its review difficult.
"I'm truly sorry for the difficulty people have faced every day in this state because of the closure of the Washington Bridge," Alviti said, while adding his staff shares the same "anxiety" about the situation, but that everyone is working as "quickly and expertly" as feasible.
Alviti was pointing to the number of construction projects RIDOT has completed since the start of RhodeWorks as an example of his department's competency when he formally took the blame for the current crisis. Of the 1,100 bridges in Rhode Island, some 270 have been rebuilt in the last eight years under his watch he said at a cost to date of $3.1 billion in state and federal funding.
To quote the director's apology exactly, Alviti said, "This one's an anomaly. It's the one out of 300 (RhodeWorks projects completed: approx.) that I am truly sorry for. I accept full responsibility for this. I'm at the top of DOT."
The director promised to continue to be "open and honest with you" as he claims he has with the General Assembly and the public since he took on the position, saying, "I've told you in the past when we've failed and when we've succeeded and I will continue to do so."
He also referenced RIDOT's creation of a dedicated website for the public, https://www.dot.ri.gov/projects/WashingtonBridgeClosure/index.php, which he said he hopes and expects to assist motorists in adjusting their schedule based on up to the second information it provides.
Asked if the Washington Bridge crisis has any tangible effect on its ability to move emergency vehicles to and from the city, East Providence Fire Department Captain John Potvin, its Director of Emergency Medical Services, said all things considered it's thankfully been negligible.
"I compared the 2023 data on transport times to current and it is only adding on average 2.5 minutes to our transport time and about 3.5 minutes to our overall time," Potvin said.
Two weeks ago RIDOT initiated a traffic change in attempt to alleviate congestion and expedite travel for those entering 195 West in East Providence from the East Shore Expressway, Pawtucket Avenue and Broadway. According to the department's data it "may be having a positive effect on the neighborhoods adjacent to the on-ramps."
In addition, the westbound crossover was restriped to make travel lanes more visible and more signage was added in East Providence and Providence to help travelers negotiate 195.