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NARRAGANSETT â If youâve ever driven a car in Rhode Island then you probably know that many of the stateâs roads and bridges are in need of repair. Several state officials gathered in Galilee on Friday morning to tour the Great Island Bridge, one of many in the state that is in disrepair and in dyer need of updates. The tour comes from a report from the White House released last week detailing state-by-state road conditions as well as a recent shortfall in funding for the federal Highway Trust Fund. According to the report, Rhode Island is the worst in the country for road conditions, tied with Connecticut at 41 percent of them in poor condition. The White House also provided statistics on each stateâs number of deficient bridges, with Rhode Island having over half (433 or 57 percent) of its 766 bridges being obsolete; the 55-year-old Great Island Bridge in Galilee is among them.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Rep. Jim Langevin and Rep. David Cicilline, as well as Gov. Lincoln Chafee were given a personal tour of the bridge by Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) Director Michael Lewis to get a better idea of just how important extended funding for critical road and bridge projects will be for the state. Congress is currently deliberating on legislation that will increase the money allocated to the Highway Trust Fund, allowing such projects in the state to go forward. Many crucial bridge and road projects, including the Great Island Bridge, will be delayed and approximately 3,600 jobs will be at risk if the legislation fails to pass.
The bridge is currently the only way to get to Great Island, which houses around 350 rental and year-round residents; it is also part of the islandâs evacuation route. State leaders were given an up-close look at just how unreliable the bridge actually is, with many climbing across large rocks at the shore in order to get a view of the underside of the structure. During a 2013 inspection of the bridge conducted by RIDOT, it was clear that its timber deck was in the process of deteriorating, causing the state to implement emergency repairs and to change the weight limit from approximately 12 tons down to only three.
âItâs way past itâs useful life,â Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse told the Narragansett Times. âAnd some of the traffic like a fuel truck, that ordinarily would be something youâd want to go out to Great Island, canât go over it. And if it starts to look a little bit worse then theyâre going to have to shut down the traffic even more. So it absolutely positively needs to be replaced.â
Sen. Whitehouse went on to explain that the bridge has long been an issue and said that he has been a proponent for the funding for some time.
âDOT has the plans and bids to replace it, the one thing they have not had is certainty about the Federal Highway Program. And thatâs been my great frustration with our colleagues in the house,â he said. âThey havenât been willing to address this problem head-on and come up with a good solution. What weâre hearing today is that this temporary patch theyâve done will at least allow this one project to go forward. But there are many like it around the state that are still dependent on Congress passing a responsible, long-term highway program. If you live out there, this is a key bridge.â
Langevin agreed that a long-term solution is key, adding that this bridge is just one of many in the state in need of repair.
âThe Great Island Bridge is sadly just one example of the many roads and bridges in disrepair in our state.Â This crumbling infrastructure results in increased costs and frustration for drivers and unacceptable risks to public safety, especially in Narragansett, where this bridge is a critical evacuation route,â said Langevin. âUnless we address the Highway Trust Fund shortfall immediately, not only do we threaten public safety, but we jeopardize thousands of jobs that our state cannot afford to lose right now. While I am pleased that the House adopted a short-term funding measure last week, we must continue working towards a long-term solution to bring safety and stability to our infrastructure programs.â
According to RIDOT, any further delay in funding for the bridgeâs replacement will directly affect taxpayers. They expect that the Highway Trust Fund will become insolvent if Congress does not act by August of this year, though they are expected to vote on the legislation this month. If passed, full highway funding will be provided only temporarily until a longer six-year bill is formally voted on at a later time.