Letter: Rethink a bridge project in hurricane season

Posted 9/12/19

Did you think about your own hurricane evacuation route as Dorian wreaked havoc elsewhere? Imagine August 2020, when the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) wants to close Silver Creek …

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Letter: Rethink a bridge project in hurricane season

Posted

Did you think about your own hurricane evacuation route as Dorian wreaked havoc elsewhere? Imagine August 2020, when the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) wants to close Silver Creek Bridge for reconstruction until Aug. 31. The bridge is part of a main Bristol evacuation route, RI-114, and lies in Zone A, an area meant to be evacuated before a Category 1 or higher hurricane.

The timing could be deadly. By late August the average Atlantic season has five named systems and two hurricanes, according to National Hurricane Center data.

Add to that risk this observation: The replacement project is not designed to be a long-term solution for a bridge ranked as the third-most vulnerable to sea level rise in Rhode Island. The ranking is part of a 2016 Rhode Island Department of Administration study, “Vulnerability of Municipal Transportation Assets to Sea Level Rise and Storm Surges.”

As an evacuation route, it is the bridge most threatened by sea level rise in the state, the study says.

State planners measured vulnerability against a sea level rise of seven feet by 2100. The study also noted a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration projection for Newport that puts the high sea level rise scenario at 2.2 feet by 2040 and 8.99 feet by 2100.

The Silver Creek Bridge, which was built in 1922, is 20 inches (1.66 feet) lower than the level needed to withstand a sea level rise of seven feet — and more than 15 feet too low for such a rise plus storm surge.   

At Silver Creek, RIDOT’s plan is to build a new substructure that supports the existing bridge, according to its website. That means the project isn’t designed to raise the road and bridge level, and it won’t increase coastal resilience. 

RIDOT needs to get this right. (1) Don’t close this crucial corridor in hurricane season, and (2) redesign the project to meet the challenge of rising water to avoid even larger costs from future disasters. 

Gov. Gina Raimondo’s own climate change strategy, “Resilient Rhody,” points to an interesting rule of thumb: The National Institute of Building Sciences estimates that one dollar in spending against natural hazards results in savings of six dollars.

Raise the bridge so the next generation doesn’t have to redo it.

Beverly Larson
Bristol

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