Nothing unites us like a bridge – literally and figuratively. They connect people, businesses, communities and all the abstract things that go with those connections; love, friendship, ideas and all the things that make our communities worth visiting and enjoying.
Bridges are what brings us together – be they bridges made of physical brick and stone like the one that connects Warwick to Cranston in the heart of Pawtuxet Village, or ideological bridges that connect us through the sharing of similar thoughts, hopes and dreams.
From the longest bridges spanning many miles of rough, churning ocean – the longest bridge in the world, in case you were wondering, is a Chinese bridge that spans 34 miles across the water (not for those made anxious by traveling on bridges) – to the humble bridges like the Pawtuxet, they represent a conquering of natural topography through the collaborative efforts of science and engineering, all for the betterment of society.
It is no secret that bridges in Rhode Island have become the worst in the country in terms of proper care and maintenance. According to the state Department of Transportation, a staggering 22 percent of the state’s 1,162 bridges are structurally deficient.
It is a troubling trend that, along with the conditions of highways, roads and school buildings – the latter of which was revealed through a statewide assessment would need $2.2 billion in repairs to get to a satisfactory level – illustrates a state government that for decades sat idly without prioritizing the importance of maintaining its most crucial infrastructure.
That burden now falls on the government officials and taxpayers of today – whether they like it or not. Governor Gina Raimondo has initiated a plan to begin to address a problem she did not create through the RhodeWorks program, which tolls commercial truckers in an attempt to generate enough revenue to fix 150 critically endangered bridges and shore up 500 more in danger of becoming critically unsafe.
It is never easy to fix problems that have been marinating for many years, especially when there are no easy solutions outside of hiking taxes for everybody. While still controversial, the RhodeWorks concept minimizes those taking a financial hit, and targets those who, like it or not, do the most damage to the bridges and roads they traverse. In many ways, it is a fair trade-off, if not still unpopular.
The revenue is being put to use, and the Pawtuxet Bridge will be a visible benefactor illustrating the goal of RhodeWorks. Proponents of the bridge – some of whom actually work in the Department of Transportation – are going further than calling the Pawtuxet project a simple “repair,” but rather a “preservation” project. As the bridge is over 130 years old, this rings true.
Which brings us back to the concept of collaboration. The bridge needs maintained and fixed so that it can stand for many more years, but the bridge is also a huge mover of traffic and people between Warwick and Cranston. It serves as a key piece of the Gaspee Days Parade, which will be celebrating its momentous 250th anniversary in 2022. Repairs to be made have to be done in a way which is considerate to the community that relies on it and cherishes it.
This is why we applaud the proactive, early efforts of state representative for the area, Joseph McNamara, and Department of Transportation officials who will be facilitating the bridge preservation project, to have a neighborhood meeting with stakeholders and get all the concerns out into the open right away.
This is the kind of bridge building that makes for good government. Everyone should have a chance to voice their opinion towards the people who will be making the ultimate decisions that have an effect on their lives. Those officials should be willing to listen – and they are, even at this early stage.
We are optimistic this kind of collaboration can happen in other facets of our communities as well. After all, bridges are there to bring us together, not keep us apart.