EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — On a freezing December day late last year, Gov. Gina Raimondo and other officials cut the ribbon on an East Providence bridge where she’d campaigned in 2014 and that she’d mentioned in her 2018 State of the State address.
Her point in both cases was that Massachusetts’ roads are better than Rhode Island’s, and it’s no more obvious than on the Newman Avenue span, which bisects the border of East Providence and Seekonk.
“That bridge made me so mad,” Raimondo said during her annual speech. “The Massachusetts side was in great shape. The road was smooth; the lanes were well marked. But when we drove back into Rhode Island, you could literally feel exactly where the state line was.”
But according to the Federal Highway Administration, the asphalt has failed a test for longevity, stalling federal funds for that small part of the $4.7 million project, is part of the toll-funded RhodeWorks program.
FHWA spokesperson Nancy Singer said she was trying to determine when the asphalt was tested.
“The pavement failed the test but then RIDOT made the decision for the pavement to stay temporarily,” Singer said. “I can also confirm that FHWA did not fund the temporary pavement but the permanent pavement will be eligible for federal aid.”
The timing of the ribbon-cutting was not political, according to Raimondo spokesperson David Ortiz, who said it was scheduled before the governor mentioned Newman Avenue in her address.
“RIDOT determined the timeline and informed the governor’s office they were ready to do an event,” he said.
Ortiz has not responded to questions about whether Raimondo was aware of the asphalt issue or if he could provide the text for what she said during the ribbon-cutting.
R.I. Department of Transportation Director Peter Alviti emphasized that the bridge is substantially complete, under budget, and will be finished far ahead of schedule.
“There was nothing deceptive,” Alviti said of the ribbon-cutting occurring before the bridge is complete.
He was not sure if anyone at the ribbon-cutting knew about the asphalt issue.
RIDOT spokesman Charles St. Martin said the department knew Newman Avenue’s new pavement would be a temporary fix, and both Alviti and St. Martin said it is not unusual to hold ribbon-cuttings for incomplete projects with temporary asphalt.
St. Martin said the goal was to avoid only one lane of Newman Avenue being open for the winter.
“This would have required unnecessary delays for the 9,000 vehicles who use this bridge every day,” he said. “Also, RIDOT had two temporary traffic signals running to control traffic, which would have had to be maintained through the winter months.”
The cost of the temporary asphalt is pegged at about $22,000, a total that Alviti said could have been higher had RIDOT paid for police details and barriers to keep one Newman Avenue lane closed all winter.