PAWTUCKET â€” How much of a pounding from trailer trucks can a 135-year-old bridge take? That's what City Councilors have been wanting to know. Yet the most recent assessment done by the state rates the span as safe and maintains the additional truck traffic is having little to no impact.
The City Council had requested that the Grebien Administration contact Michael Lewis, Director of the Rhode Island Department of Transportation, as well as Gov. Lincoln Chafee and other state officials with their concerns about the condition of the Division Street Bridge and that the state be accountable for any repairs.
In a Jan. 21 letter, Lewis responded back to Antonio Pires, acting Director of Administration, reiterating RIDOT's commitment to preserving the integrity of the bridge, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. He wrote, â€śWe realize how important this structure is to the city and the key role it has played, and continues to play, while the Pawtucket River Bridge is being rebuilt.â€ť
Lewis said RIDOT had just completed an interim six-month inspection of the bridge and had provided Pires with the report. He wrote, â€śI would like to emphasized that the bridge is safe and that there has been no indication that the increase in truck traffic has caused any additional distress above and beyond what you would expect to see in a masonry structure that is 135-years-old.â€ť
Lewis also told Pires that RIDOT officials will continue to monitor the health of the bridge every six months â€śand will ensure its structural integrity.â€ť He added that RIDOT remains committed to working with the city towards the successful completion of the Pawtucket River Bridge project.â€ť
In the executive summary for the inspection, which was dated Dec. 16, 2011, it was noted that the inspection schedule of the bridge had been changed to a frequency of six months. The interim inspections will track changes in the structure due to increased daily truck traffic from the Interstate-95 northbound lanes detour route,
The summary states that â€śmany of the previously noted defects, such as minor cracking and delamination of the brick soffit, small cracks in the arch ring, and voids between spandrel wall stones, are typical of structures of this type and age.â€ť It is also states that â€śwhen compared to the previous inspection report in May of 2010, we did not find any significant changes in the overall condition of this structure.â€ť
The summary concluded that â€śdefects for all elements have been cataloged and will continue to be monitored for limit and severity at a six-month inspection frequency.â€ť
The inspection report itself rates the arch-style bridge's overall condition as â€śfair,â€ť although other elements, including the bridge rail and approach rail were ranked as â€śsubstandard.â€ť
On the bridge deck itself, the report found that the bituminous concrete overlay is in good condition with minor longitudinal and map cracking throughout. The surface on the deck â€śhas no patched area, potholes, or wheel line rutting from an increase in truck traffic.â€ť Conditions â€śare similar to the previous inspection,â€ť the report states.
For the reinforced concrete, the report states that â€śthe stone masonry spandrel walls contain random intermittent voids, hollow sounding stones, and loose, cracked, or missing mortar throughout. Deficiencies noted in the previous inspection are of similar magnitude are are not severe or compromising the capacity of the element of structure.â€ť
The report states that â€śvoids in the wall from missing mortar between blocks are present at typical less than five percent of the surface area. Cracks up to 3/16â€ť wide in random stones appear to be similar in dimension to the previous inspection.â€ť These cracks will continued to be monitored during inspections.
Also, â€śthe interface between the deck overhang and the top of both the north and south spandrel walls contain loose or missing mortar and small voids between stones over the full length of the bridge.â€ť
For â€śother materialâ€ť in the pier wall, the report states that the stone piers are in satisfactory condition. It is noted that â€śIn general, they show evidence of leakage, efflorescence, cracked stones and mortar deterioration,â€ť but that many elements had been noted in the previous inspection.
It was also found that the stone masonry abutments at the east and west ends of the bridge â€śare generally in similar condition to the previous inspection.â€ť However, deficiencies that were observed include â€ścracks up to 3/16â€ť that were previously noted as up to 1/8â€ť, voids up to 11â€ť, evidence of leakage through efflorescence staining, locations of missing mortar between stones, and hollow sounding stones.â€ť
The report notes that sidewalks, lamp posts, utilities and channel protection are bridge components previously inspected that were not part of the scope of the December 2011 inspection. At the last report done in May, several problems were found with the timber sidewalks, such as an area that has been patched with plywood, evidence of moderate to heavy rust build-up on support brackets, and one incorrectly installed sidewalk support bracket. In addition, it was noted that â€śthere are loose planks and minor separations up to one-inch wide between the planks at random locations.â€ť
Councilor Albert Vitali, who has been among the loudest voices on the council in lobbying for accountability from RIDOT on the bridge project, said he still has â€śvery large concernsâ€ť about the truck traffic. He said that an inspection report he received some three years ago at the start of the detour rated the bridge to be in â€śfairâ€ť condition back then. â€śI have a tough time believing that after more than two and a half years of consistent tractor trailer truck traffic that here hasn't been some deterioration to that bridge.â€ť
Vitali said this was why he had suggested that engineering students from the University of Rhode Island do a separate assessment of the bridge. â€śI would like to have an unbiased pair of eyes look at it,â€ť he said.
Vitali said his main concern remains that city taxpayers will have to pay for the Division Street Bridge repairs, or that RIDOT could choose to just shut the bridge off completely if repairs were deemed too costly.