Letter: Washington Street Bridge was an avoidable crisis

Posted 2/15/24

The failure of the Washington Street Bridge is a crisis for Rhode Island and all who drive I-195. Our elected representatives must take all necessary steps to protect the public’s interests.

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Letter: Washington Street Bridge was an avoidable crisis


To the editor:

The failure of the Washington Street Bridge is a crisis for Rhode Island and all who drive I-195. Our elected representatives must take all necessary steps to protect the public’s interests.

Information to date suggests incompetence or possible negligence by some elected and appointed officials and contractors. Reports show Rhode Island leaders knew of the dangers for many years, including Governor McKee acknowledging awareness of the issue back in 2018, and contradicting Peter Alviti’s assertions that the bridge was in good condition in July 2023 and the problems are a recent development.

People’s lives were risked by allowing this to happen. The fix will take years and will require either extensive rebuilding or complete replacement of the bridge. In the meantime all who drive I-195 will be forced to endure significant personal and economic hardships. Summer traffic to Cape Cod, winter driving conditions, and inevitable accidents will make the problem even worse.

The ultimate responsibility lies with Governor McKee. He has been Governor since 2021, and Lieutenant Governor since 2015. He was aware of the dangers and this debacle happened on his watch. He knew about the bridge problems years ago and apparently chose inaction. The buck stops with him.

The Oversight Hearing on Feb. 12 was a necessary first step but largely political theater with responses long on deflection, empty buzzwords, disturbing inconsistencies, heavy sighs, and short on anything meaningful.
Our state legislators should consider the following:

  • Immediately remove Peter Alviti, whether dismissal, resignation, or impeachment. The person most directly responsible for allowing this catastrophe to happen should not be relied on to correct it.
  • Form an independent panel of qualified bridge engineers to objectively access the problem and recommend solutions. Given the history of questionable performance and dealings with local contractors this group should come from outside the local area to minimize risk of bias, perhaps New York.
  • Form a commission to investigate and ascertain responsibility, working with the Department of Justice and Department of Transportation in their own investigations. Include the Attorney General, members of the state legislature, independent investigative attorneys, and bridge engineers. It must operate with complete transparency, unlike recent actions such as failing to provide all emails from Peter Alviti or John Igliozzi in response to a public records request.
  • Hold Governor McKee accountable. The evidence to date and his lack of forthrightness and transparency are concerning. Saying that driving delays add only 10 to 15 minutes is disingenuous, not realistic, and out of touch. Real world experiences show delays can often be 30 minutes to as much as 2 hours. It’s hard to imagine an outcome that doesn’t require the Governor to either resign or be impeached.
  • Declare a State of Emergency. A federal agency, the Department of Transportation or Federal Highway Administration, should lead the reconstruction. Rhode Island has a history of cronyism, corruption, and poor decision making and execution. Competent leadership would not have given us the fourth worst bridges in the country with 17.3% being structurally deficient. I-195 is a federal interstate and vital artery carrying about 100,000 vehicles daily. The bridge must be rebuilt to proper standards and people need to have confidence in its safety. The much smaller and flawed Henderson Street Bridge has been under construction for a decade. In Bristol the tiny little 20-foot-long ‘Silver Creek Bridge’ took well over a year. The record shows Rhode Island does not have the expertise or wherewithal to do this in a timely or quality way.

We are all affected by this. Call your state representatives and senators and the Governor and let them know how you feel.

Nick Landekic

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.