PAWTUCKET — Although RIDOT Director Michael P. Lewis joked that it was more of a “mud-breaking” due to the rain, state and local officials lined up on George Street with ceremonial shovels on Thursday afternoon to break ground on the new I-95 Pawtucket River Bridge.
Lewis and Governor Donald L. Carcieri joined with Senator Jack Reed, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Congressman Jim Langevin, Pawtucket Major James E. Doyle and others at the closed on-ramp from George Street to I-95 for a ceremony to kick-off the Pawtucket River Bridge replacement project.
While the entire project is not expected to be completed until 2014, a crucial part of it—that of getting tractor trailer trucks back on a portion of I-95 and removing the 18-ton weight limit posting that has frustrated truck drivers, local business owners and city officials alike—is slated to be finished by the spring of 2012.
Lewis said that through this project, RIDOT plans to replace the aging Pawtucket River Bridge that dates back to 1958 and carries I-95 over Taft Street and the Pawtucket River. The project involves the construction of three separate structures: a bridge to carry I-95 northbound, a bridge to carry I-95 southbound, and a bridge that will serve as an access road on which the on- and off-ramps to George Street and School Street will be located.
Lewis said that, in addition, RIDOT will make some intersection improvements along George Street and Marrin Street, and rehabilitate the Garden Street Bridge, the Pine Street Bridge and the George Street Bridge.
In his comments, Lewis acknowledged the “long suffering folks of Pawtucket” who have had to put up with the bridge detours, and also said that RIDOT recognized “the forced imposition on the city” that resulted from the 18-ton weight limit. He also singled out John Atwood and the local trucking industry and said RIDOT realizes the cost factors involved in the trucks having to make detours due to the weight limit.
“Innovative construction staging will allow us to maintain all travel lanes throughout construction posing a minimal impact to the motoring public,” said Lewis. He added that an “innovative” bidding process is designed to provide the shortest possible construction period at the best price. This is a reference to a payment incentive geared toward the project being completed up to three months' earlier than scheduled.
A $106 million contract has been awarded to S& R Construction and Pihl, Inc. in a joint venture, noted Lewis. He also spoke of the cooperation that took place between the state and federal government in obtaining funding for the project, singling out U.S. Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse and Congressman Jim Langevin for their efforts. Through both Senate and House bills, the delegation secured a $2.26 million federal appropriation this year to help repair the bridge, and had also secured $1.9 million for the project in 2009.
Gov. Donald Carcieri said, “For Rhode Island to compete in the 21s t century economy, we need a 21st century infrastructure system. Over the past eight years, we have aggressively addressed the need to replace and repair our roads and bridges along key transportation routes, from the completion of Route 403 and the I-Way to the construction of the Sakonnet River bridge and today's groundbreaking.”
Carcieri added, “We have made great improvements to the state's infrastructure and enhanced the ease of moving goods and services to and from Rhode Island.” He also praised those who were involved in the design of the new Pawtucket River bridge, noting how, “rather than just a slab, it will be an entrance to the state and a proper introduction to Pawtucket and all the history and architecture that is here.”
Pawtucket Mayor James Doyle noted that it was almost three years ago this month, on Nov. 15, 2007, when he was notified by RIDOT of the concerns about the bridge and the need to impose a detour and weight limits. He said that just four weeks later, a bridge design task force was formed, headed up by Richard Kazarian, that quickly set to work on the now iconic bridge design.
While he joined with other state and local officials in speaking positively about seeing the project get off the ground, Doyle also stated, “This city has gone through an awful lot because of what happened here.” He said that he and Judge Mark Pfeiffer, the Central Falls court-appointed receiver, would be soon giving testimony at the State House to show the damage that both communities have endured from the bridge problems and related detours.