The Bad, Good And BIG News On Newport Bridge Construction

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New details emerge on 10-year Newport Bridge reconstruction plan.

The Newport Chamber of Commerce hosted a very well-attended informational event Monday morning, featuring Eric Offenberg, Director of Engineering at the Rhode Island Turnpike And Bridge Authority. There were a lot of local business owners and community representatives who had serious concerns about what Newport and southern Rhode Island will face once construction re-starts September 19th and the Newport Bridge’s traffic is restricted to two lanes.



The Bad News

The bad news isn’t really news. It’s just the confirmation that for everyone who has a “regular” commute over the Newport Bridge or wants to get onto the island from 6am-9am or who wants to leave the island 3pm-6pm…or wants to drive anywhere within a half-mile of the rotary, life is going to be a bit frustrating for a few months.

People who experienced the construction period in May and June have an idea of what to expect and those who have some flexibility in their schedules can do what they can to avoid the brunt of the traffic, but it’s still not going to be a good time for anyone.

Some lessons learned in the initial construction phase are being applied to alleviate the worst binds on the flow of traffic, but there’s only so much that can be done. The southern exit of the RK Shopping Center (Wal-Mart, Stop & Shop, etc.) will be closed during the 3pm-6pm rush hour to prevent people from trying to cut through the parking lot there and binding up Admiral Kalbfus Highway.

RK Shopping Center exit closing during Newport Bridge Construction

The Good News

Eric Offenberg did offer up one bit of solace for commuters, residents and local business owners. This upcoming phase of concrete deck replacement was initially expected to run from September 19-December 22. With any luck, it will be completed by Thanksgiving. This is a big deal for Newport, as the Christmas season brings a spike in events and business before January hits and a chunk of the city skips town for the winter.

The BIG News

Going into this meeting, a lot of people had very serious concerns about how the Newport Bridge reconstruction was going to affect everyone in the area. After all, it was announced as a ten year project, but the only details for that plan laid out on the RITBA website were:

2017

May 15-June 29 and September 19-December 22: Hydrodemolition and pouring of concrete on roadway deck

May 15-December 22: Removal of existing steel bearings and replacement with new elastomeric bearings at all piers and other pier repairs

A lot of people have been very concerned that Newport was going to face the kind of traffic jams we saw in May and June for six months out of the year, every year…for the next decade. For businesses located on Connell Highway or the rotary, this has been a rather terrifying prospect. For people who commute onto the island, it has been enough to look for other jobs. For most of Newport, it would mean a huge hit to the shoulder seasons.

So the big story that everyone came away from this meeting was when Eric Offenberg let everyone know that there will be no deck construction in 2018. The bridge work next year will consist of a survey of the cables that hold the suspension bridge up and will not involve major lane shut-downs.

Now, we know that beyond 2018, more deck reconstruction is coming, but for those who might have been expecting a decade (or more) of constant massive traffic delays and the impact that would have had on Newport’s livability, this should be a bit of a relief.



A Dark Shroud Lifted

When the bridge construction traffic started, many Newporters were terrified at the prospect that we were going to face bumper-to-bumper traffic backed up for years on end, with relief from construction traffic found only in the peak summer months, when it would be replaced by bumper-to-bumper tourism traffic, or in the winter, when it would be replaced by the cold barrenness of the off-season.

Once Mr. Offenberg brought to light some specifics to RITBA’s long term plans for the project, it relieved a number of audience members of their worst-case fears. The Director said that RITBA will update its website to provide some more long-term information so residents, businesses and commuters can better plan for the future. We hope to see that happen.

-Tristan Pinnock, Blast Traffic Correspondent


Tristan's just this guy, ya know?