Crumbling bridge creates new safety concern for students

NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. (WPRI) – When a recent inspection revealed serious deficiences on a small bridge in Saunderstown, the R.I. Department of Transportation put a weight restriction on it. Now, 6,000 pounds is the limit.

Brad St. Germain lives near the bridge on Railroad Avenue. His daughters – 6 and 12 years old – typically catch the school bus right in front of their home. But because of the new weight restriction, the school bus is not able to cross the bridge, and their new bus stop is up the street.

“It’s a very busy street,” St. Germain said. “It’s extremely poorly lit. There’s no sidewalks, and I’m afraid that they’re going to get hit by a car.”

St. Germain showed Call 12 for Action an email he received from RIDOT on Tuesday that said in part, “we anticipate that the project will begin construction some time in spring/early summer of 2018.”

But on Wednesday, RIDOT Director Peter Alviti said he’s hopeful for a speedier repair on the historic bridge.

“This one will be pretty simple,” Alviti said. “What we’ll be doing is simply taking off the bridge deck, putting a new pipe in a place in between the two stone walls and backfilling everything including the walls.”

Alviti said the agency needs permits from the R.I. Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission, as well as the R.I. Department of Environmental Management.

“We’re encouraging them to treat this as an emergency repair so that we can proceed very quickly with it,” Alviti said. “Once we have their clearance to do that, we’ll be able to do it within the next couple weeks, get it fixed, back up and running.”

Alviti added there are no temporary fixes that could halt the weight restriction.

“Safety is number one here at DOT,” he said. “If they don’t follow the law and they don’t heed the posting that we put up, it could cause the culvert to collapse.”

North Kingstown Superintendent Phil Auger said he understands parents’ safety concerns with the new bus stop location.

“Right now, it’s the best option that we have,” Auger said. “We would like it to be fixed as soon as possible.”

The planned bridge repairs are part of Gov. Gina Raimondo’s RhodeWorks initiative, a 10-year, $4.7-billion plan for infrastructure upgrades that will be partially funded through truck tolls. According to data from RIDOT, about 22% of the state’s 1,162 bridges are structurally deficient.

Susan Campbell (scampbell@wpri.com) is the Call 12 for Action and Target 12 consumer investigator for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook.