The director of the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) was at Monday night’s town council meeting to discuss the replacement of the bridge on Laurel Avenue—renamed last year the Nathanael Greene Memorial Bridge.
Michael Lewis, RIDOT’s director, was back at a Coventry town council meeting for the second time in less than a year.
Lewis had been at a town council meeting held in April after the March floods had damaged the then Laurel Avenue Bridge.
At this past Monday night’s council meeting Lewis appeared with RIDOT’s bridge design managing engineer, David Fish.
Lewis said he recognized the impact the bridge being out had on residents and “particularly as it relates to emergency access,” he said.
The replacement of the bridge, Lewis said, had already taken “longer than anticipated,” and he told the council he hoped to “expedite” the contract.
Different from a usual build where there is a bid for first the design and then a bid to actually build the bridge, this will be a “design-build” contract.
The designer and the contractor are sought out “all as one package,” he said.
Council vice president Kerry McGee asked Lewis how many design-build contractors there were in the area.
Lewis said, however, that it is not one contractor, but that a designer and a contractor join forces together to complete the project.
The department’s first design-build project is the train station at Wickford Junction in North Kingstown, which Lewis said is under construction now.
Lewis said the design-build process can reduce claims and “eliminates one potential point of conflict” since the designer and contractor are working together.
It also allows construction to begin, for example on the foundations, even if the entire bridge has not been fully designed, Lewis explained.
Town council president Gary Cote echoed the concerns of rescue personnel.
Cote is also the chair of the Coventry Fire District (Anthony) where the bridge is located, he told Lewis.
Cote said that the “call to arrival” response time to his own home, 29 Pettine St., was up from four and a half minutes to 12 and a half to 15 minutes with the bridge out.
The department has entered into an automatic aid agreements with the surrounding districts so that the closest piece of apparatus is sent to a call, Cote said.
However, he said that other districts were starting to be impacted by their calls.
He explained how the fire districts in Coventry are funded by fire taxes collected separately from the taxpayers in each district.
People “are not realizing the services their tax dollars are paying for,” Cote said.
Lewis said that the bid process would be “as compressed as possible.”
He said they were “not concerned about the cost as much as the schedule.”
Lewis said that the project is funded by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and said that “the funding is in place” and “is not a hindrance” to the project.
Lewis said that the new bridge would not be physically tied to the dam as the previous bridge had been. “We want to make those structures separate,” he said, which means the integrity of the dam also must be looked after.
Cote asked about a temporary bridge, perhaps a Bailey suspension bridge erected by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that would allow him to let at least rescue, if not fire apparatus to cross the river.
Lewis said that the bridge would then be in the footprint of the new bridge and halt construction even further.
He said that he did not think it was “viable,” for the location because a bridge like that is “more or less permanent,” he said.
Lewis said that they were “so close,” to getting the bid out and awarded for the new bridge.
They “will put in a duration that the contract has to live up to,” as well, Lewis explained.
Lewis said he would continue to communicate with the town manager, Thomas Hoover, on the progress with the bridge and told the council he would be glad to come back and talk to the council.
Rep. Glenford Shibley, the former town councilman who had proposed the name change of the bridge, told Lewis they wanted “a nice design.”
Rep. Scott Guthrie, after hearing concern at a recent Coventry Fire District meeting, had asked Lewis to be present.