When George Shuster learned from his wife Stephanie that contractors and the director of public works were meeting last week at the Mill Creek Bridge on Tidewater Drive, he saw red.
For the past three years, Shuster has pushed the city to design a replacement bridge that takes into account flooding and rising sea levels as well as account for the passage of those with kayaks and canoes.
But that wasn’t happening last week.
Rather, the city was conducting a pre-bid conference for a bridge for a structure that virtually replaces the one that’s there now.
The old bridge is showing signs of its age. Weight limitations have been imposed that require buses and heavy trucks to access the neighborhoods of Riverview and Longmeadow from Draper Avenue off West Shore Road.
Shuster, an attorney who is active in community affairs and lives in Riverview, didn’t waste time in voicing his displeasure and concerns.
He emailed city engineer Eric Earls, copying the mayor and others in the administration, saying that he thought before the city went ahead and replaced a crumbling bridge with an inadequate replacement at a projected cost of $1.6 million, it should examine the alternatives.
He hit a nerve.
Ward 5 Councilman Ed Ladouceur said Sunday that he’s called for a meeting Thursday to discuss the bridge. In addition to members of the city administration and public works, Ladouceur wants to have representatives of the Warwick Sewer Authority in attendance. As it turns out, the bridge would play a role in the extension of sewers to Riverview and neighborhoods south called the Bayside projects. Bayside is one of six projects to be addressed with a $56 million revenue bond to extend sewers and upgrade the wastewater treatment plant.
The Bayside projects would be connected to the pumping station on Tidewater Drive near West Shore Road, and to get there the line would presumably cross Mill Creek at the bridge. Ladouceur is anxious to see that happen because if the cost of the sewer line is tied into the bridge, it reduces the overall sewer costs to homeowners within the Bayside projects.
“I think he [Shuster] has excellent points that need to be addressed before we approve [the bond issue],” Ladouceur said. Ladouceur expects to be told that the city has already spent money to design the bridge, and that to redesign and elevate, it would result in delays and added expenditures.
“But,” he adds, “it doesn’t make sense to rebuild just as it is when it is getting flooded out.”
Ladouceur said he would recommend that the City Council hold the resolution calling for the bridge bonding expected to come up at last night’s meeting.
Shuster has rallied the Buckeye Brook Coalition. The brook flows into Mill Creek Cove before emptying into Narragansett Bay.
In his email to city officials, Shuster writes, “The countervailing concern is that by spending $1.6 million on a bridge that is not high enough, you are wasting money and losing the opportunity to get it right.”
In addition, he believes the current plan is in violation of the Code of Federal Regulations.
He goes on to say, “The bottom line is that if you build this, you’re solving the current loan capacity problem only, when there are other issues to be addressed. My view is $1.6 million is too much to solve just the load capacity problem, and it makes it nearly 100 percent certain that the other issues will not be addressed again in my lifetime (until a storm comes and makes it necessary to build the right bridge).”
Shuster said yesterday that during normal high tides, the water is about 12 inches from the deck of the bridge. During moon tides, the water is at the level of the deck.
Shuster has looked for standards, finding that they vary by state between one and three feet of daylight between the high water and the bridge deck.
In preparation for Thursday’s meeting, Shuster has provided a series of questions that seek answers on the height of the structure, what data is available concerning high tides, flooding and storm events as well as the integration of the bridge with the sewer project. He also asks questions of the timing of bridge construction, an environmental impact statement and why neighborhood groups weren’t involved in the process.
And of personal frustration, he said he has raised the issue of the bridge with the administration for the last three years only to be told “not to worry,” since the city doesn’t have the money to build a replacement. Now, he said, it appears they didn’t consider the issues he raised and are going ahead with a project that is inadequate.