With proper maintenance, the newly completed Natick Bridge linking Warwick and West Warwick should withstand a flood like that of 2010 that inundated the old bridge, and last indefinitely, said Rhode Island Director of Transportation Michael P. Lewis on Tuesday.
Lewis, plus a smattering of elected officials from the two communities and a handful of area residents, gathered at the West Warwick side of the span over the Pawtuxet River to commemorate the bridge’s opening. The bridge is higher than the one it replaces, the remnants of which, Lewis said, will be removed in May 2014 as the $7.1 million project is completed.
What counts now is that the link between the communities has been fully restored. Weight limits are no longer applicable and there’s a wide, safe sidewalk for pedestrian traffic.
Ward 8 Councilman Joseph Gallucci said lobbying efforts to get the state to replace the old masonry bridge date back to the 1990s, but it was the flood of 2010 that really moved the project along. Lewis said the old bridge acted as a “dam” during the flood, with the surging Pawtuxet spilling over the deck. Fears that the bridge had been lifted off its foundation were unfounded but the structure was sufficiently damaged that traffic had to be limited.
“It was built for a very different traffic load,” Lewis said of the bridge that dates to 1913. The new bridge required the removal of three structures and improvements to East Avenue and River Street. Lewis said modular construction techniques were used. It was designed to aesthetically complement the area and for safety.
“It needs to be taken care of, and there is no reason it won’t last indefinitely,” Lewis said.
Mayor Scott Avedisian welcomed the new span, observing how vital it is for Natick businesses.
When it comes to bridges, Natick is one of the state’s fortunate neighborhoods.
Lewis said the state is on a schedule to replace 10 of Rhode Island’s 760 bridges every year. While that may seem like a lot of work, he said 20 percent of state bridges are “structurally deficient” and if that pace isn’t increased by 2020, 40 percent of the bridges will be structurally deficient. In order to reverse the trend, Lewis is lobbying for $400 million over the next 10 years. With such a commitment, he said, the state would be able to reduce the level of structurally deficient bridges to 10 percent of the total.