NEWPORT, R.I. (WPRI) — Temporary lane closures have started on the Newport Pell Bridge as part of a $21 million project to reconstruct part of the deck, and round-the-clock lane closures are scheduled to begin in August.
The bridge, now in its 50th year, is being rebuilt section by section as part of a multi-year rehabilitation project.
The Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority (RITBA) is planning to reconstruct a 4,500-foot long section of the deck on the Newport side beginning this summer.
RITBA Director of Engineering Eric Offenberg said the project should take a year and a half, with the contractor pausing in November or December for the winter season and restarting in March.
“At the end of that project we’re going to have a nice new deck for people to drive,” Offenberg said at a public meeting about the project in Jamestown on Wednesday night. (Another meeting was held Tuesday on the Newport side, so drivers could attend one or the other without having to pay the toll).
The first phase of the project is already underway. Construction crews are setting up electronic sign boards, installing gantries that will have lighted signs indicating which lanes are open, doing joint repairs and routine maintenance. During the first phase, lane closures will only be temporary from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and overnight from 7 p.m. to 5:30 a.m. One lane will be closed at a time, and all four lanes will be open during the morning and afternoon rush hours.
The second phase, starting Aug. 5, is when the deck will actually be reconstructed. One lane at a time will be closed around the clock, and the median will be moved during the day in order to have two lanes open heading into Newport in the morning, and two lanes leaving Newport in the afternoon.
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Two summers ago, RITBA reconstructed another section of the deck, causing major traffic backups for commuters and beachgoers. That project closed two lanes at a time instead of one.
“The huge difference is last time, there was only one lane going out of Newport. This time, there’s two,” Offenberg said.
“It sounds like they’ve learned from previous years and they’re going to keep the traffic moving the best they can,” said Dennis Webster, a resident from Jamestown who attended the meeting.
He said he definitely sees the need for the big repair.
“25 years I’ve been driving over the bridge, they’re spending more and more time patching holes every year,” Webster said. “So it’s probably time for a new deck.”
While beachgoers will likely groan at the lane closures on sunny weekend days, Offenberg said the project has to happen during warmer months to avoid pouring concrete in freezing temperatures.
“We looked at as late as we can go, but we picked the dates based on the amount of work that needs to get done,” he explained.
Offenberg said construction will take certain weekends off, including for the Newport Jazz Festival.
Police details are also planned. The entire $21 million project will be paid for with tolls, and Offenberg said the current price to cross the bridge—83 cents with an EZ pass and $4 without one—is not going up for this project.
The deck replacement project is scheduled to finish before 2020, after which a Rhode Island DOT ramp project is slated to begin. Once that project is over, RITBA will do similar deck repairs on the other sections of the bridge.
RITBA is planning to hold a 50th-anniversary celebration for the Pell Bridge in June.