With the completely unacceptable, lose-lose for Rhode Island prospect of across-the-board vehicle tolling suddenly on the table, let’s take a closer look at a high-profile toll-related incident from a couple of months ago: the closure by RIDOT of the Park Avenue Bridge.
You may recall the WPRI investigation last month by Ted Nesi on the timing of the Park Avenue Bridge inspection. RIDOT had ordered an inspection – it turned into three inspections – of the Park Avenue Bridge in Cranston, a bridge just down the road from Speaker Nicholas Mattiello’s office. The inspections resulted in the abrupt closing of the bridge at the height of Governor Raimondo’s attempt to get her tolling program passed by the General Assembly. The closure of this bridge was widely perceived as a blatant, clumsy, scene-from-an-old-gangster-movie attempt to muscle Speaker Mattiello into approving Governor Raimondo’s odious and ill-conceived toll program. “You’re gonna approve our tolls, see? Or we’re gonna take it out on your townspeople – just like that, see?”
But there was no tangible proof of these suspicions — that is, until mid-July, when Nesi uncovered the damning fact that the inspection of this bridge had been requested out of order – i.e., earlier – by RIDOT in the schedule of an already accelerated bridge inspection program ordered in May by new RIDOT Director, former Director of Programs for Laborers International, Peter Alviti. At that point, it became pretty clear that the bridge was specifically targeted by RIDOT, with other circumstances pointing to a political motivation for the targeting; namely, to bring pressure on an uncooperative speaker. (Kudos to Speaker Mattiello for refusing to knuckle under.)
But what about the repairs themselves? When the bridge reopened a month later, RIDOT had replaced all of the wood in the bridge – but none of the metal.
See pictures below of the wood that was removed from the bridge. All credit goes to WPRO’s John Loughlin, a retired lieutenant colonel of the US Army Reserves, for noticing this and pointing it out on his radio show last Saturday (August 15). Via e-mail, Lieutenant Colonel Loughlin channeled Los Angeles police detective Lieutenant Frank Columbo, who “has a few questions” about these recent repairs to the bridge.
I know you’re very busy and I appreciate you taking the time to answer a few questions that I just can’t seem to figure out. Now, follow me here. The bridge was built in 1909. The original decking lasted fine until 1991. That’s 82 years. The bridge was closed for nearly a year to replace the decking in ‘91. If the decking lasted even half as long as the original, it shouldn’t need to be replace until 2033 (1992 plus 41 years). Instead, the new decking “had” to be replaced in just 23 years, roughly 25% of the time the original decking lasted. And that with using technologically superior 1992 wood!
Now we know the bridge was closed most recently because it was found to be “structurally deficient.” Note that no work, zero, zip nada work was done on the metal superstructure that supports the decking, just the decking was replaced. And this is what’s bothering me, how is it that the bridge was structurally deficient yet no work was done on the structural supports? I just can’t figure that out.
Again, and I’m having a hard time with this too, the decking they took out looks just fine to me, except in the places where it was damaged to remove it – see? I just can’t get my head around that either. Is it possible we threw roughly 500K at a bridge to replace decking that didn’t need to be replaced and did nothing to fix the under lying structure just to be done and out quickly for political reasons? Is it possible that under the Raimondo administration DOT has become a political showmanship machine? See, I just can’t quite figure this out. And lastly, where did you get those little soaps in the DOT bathroom? My wife loves loves little soaps like that you put out, you know, when company is coming over?
Thank you for weighing in, Lieutenant Columbo. We all certainly share your puzzlement.