WPRI: Federal bills could send $170M to RI for bridge fortification

WPRI: Federal bills could send $170M to RI for bridge fortification

By Bill Tomison and Kim Kalunian

WEST WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — In the past two years, Rhode Island leaders have started to take action at the state level to fix seriously deficient bridges.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Jim Langevin Monday morning announced bills they said would help bring cash to the efforts at the federal level. They met with state and town officials at the Factory Bridge in West Warwick to champion the “Strengthen And Fortify Existing” (SAFE) Bridges Act.

“Rhode Island is an old state, and as a result, we have old infrastructure,” said Sen. Whitehouse. “As a result, we have one of the worst records of dilapidated bridges anywhere in the country.”

“We’ve been under some of the overpasses that are in such poor repair, you can actually see — in some cases — chunks of concrete coming down,” said Rep. Langevin. “It’s a wakeup call.”

In 2015, Gov. Gina Raimondo agreed, saying at the time, “Rhode Island has the worst bridges in America.”

But the state is not alone in deteriorating infrastructure.

The federal Act would funnel about $11 billion to states where bridges need to be fixed over the next four years. (The national tally is 56,000-plus bridges that are structurally deficient.) Rhode Island’s share over the next four years would be $170 million.

Monday’s example, the Factory Bridge, was built in 1956. It hasn’t been significantly repaired since.

While the state’s RhodeWorks project is already underway and working to make improvements, the Rhode Island Department of Transportation’s Peter Alviti said federal money could help shave two to three years off of the 10-year project. “It not only will allow us to get it done faster but will allow us to get it done more completely,” he said.

Langevin plans to introduce his companion House bill to Whitehouse’s Senate bill in the coming weeks.

Besides making the ride on the roads easier for drivers, repairing these bridges with the “SAFE” Bridges Act is expected to create plenty of construction jobs, the congressmen said — not to mention let everyone breathe a sigh of relief and sleep better at night.

“Wouldn’t it be nice to get 100 percent of our bridges safe?” said Alviti.