Three months after surpassing its first timeline milestone, the state Department of Transportation (DOT) is chasing a date for opening the Sakonnet River Bridge's northbound lanes.
According to Charles St. Martin, information and public relations specialist, a series of setbacks delayed construction and caused Cardi Corp. to miss its May deadline for transferring traffic to the new structure. The earliest the northbound lanes could open is now late September.
"When [Cardi Corporation] bid, they helped determine that milestone date as part of the competitive bidding process," said St. Martin. "The main focus was to get rid of the weight limit. That's why we placed an emphasis on getting the bridge to a point where it was serviceable as soon as possible."
Until traffic can be diverted to the new bridge, all vehicles in excess of 18 tons are being diverted from the failing structure, causing lengthy detours for trucks, buses and other large vehicles trying to pass through Aquidneck Island via Route 24.
According to St. Martin the construction contract calls for penalties for missed milestones, but first the DOT will need to determine who is at fault for the delays.
"We would need to asses that once they reach the goal when traffic is on the bridge," said St. Martin. "We then look back and assess what that it would be - it could be owner delay or contractor delay, so sometimes there is shared responsibility - percentages on them, or us. That determines what the penalty would be."
Humid, wet weather is the biggest problem for readying the northbound lanes for traffic right now. Waterproofing the bridge deck to seal it off from stress cracks must be done in a dry environment and August proved rainy and humid.
Cardi also lost several months in the summer of 2010 when bad concrete and in support piles and design flaws set construction back several months, according to St. Martin. Cardi corrected both problems.
The $163.7 million reconstruction project broke ground in April 2009 and despite the setbacks, the DOT said it is still generally on track. Construction isn't slated to be totally completed until May of 2013 and St. Martin said the contractor could make up time before then.
DOT will not give a date, but speculated the northbound lanes would open to traffic in late-September. The southbound lanes will open about two weeks to a month after.
After the project is completed, St. Martin said a separate contract would be awarded for the dismantling of the old bridge. While he said demolishing the structure with explosives due to its proximity to the new bridge was unlikely, he added that DOT had not determined how the bridge would be removed or the cost.
Ownership of the bridge will be transferred to the state Turnpike and Bridge Authority (RITBA) after total project completion, at which time the RITBA will move to install tolls.