Trucks begin process of cleaning RI's 1,179 bridges

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Starting now and going into the fall months, there will be new state trucks travelling through Rhode Island in the department of transportation’s (DOT) quest to preserve the life of the state’s 1,179 bridges, many of which DOT director Peter Alviti said are nearing 50 years old.

The project has started already, Alviti said, and will be using 10 new vehicles that cost the state $10 million to purchase. That is part of a $26 million allotment the department has to spend on maintenance of Rhode Island’s roads and bridges.

He said that the trucks would be cleaning, on average, five bridges per day, spending a “couple of hours at each.” He added that it’ll be a work zone and there will be lanes closed for traffic control. He said that, “a little bit of inconvenience is worth the additional years of use we’ll get out of it.”

The issue that the state is working to address, Alviti said, is that the infrastructure of the bridges haven’t been maintained well enough since construction because of a lack of funding. Though the state will be spending $5 billion over the next five years to replace bridges that are nearing the end of their time, Alviti said the idea is to preserve these bridges until they can be replaced.  

“We haven’t been investing in new bridges or in maintenance capabilities,” the DOT director said. “Now we’re doing both.”

The cleaning will be done through power washers spraying water underneath the bridges or from above and down the sides. DOT spokesman Charles St. Martin likened the process to a “reverse carwash,” adding that the pressure of the water is 100 PSI and can spray up to 200 gallons per minute.

Alviti said that there have been corrosive products that have gotten stuck to the bridges, most notably the salt used by the state during the winter, and the washers will be able to rinse off the residue.

On Thursday, the trucks were sent to begin the project at the bridges on Route 37, and they will be continuing throughout the state until winter begins on a five-bridges-a-day basis.

The funds for this project also pay for new workers who have been hired by DOT. St. Martin said that in the past DOT workers did some of the maintenance, but sometimes they had to contract out to other companies to do it because of a lack of staffing.

“For years the size of our maintenance staff has dwindled, and we weren’t making the investments we needed to give them the right tools for the job,” Alviti also said in a release. “Now we’re investing in new technology, increasing our staff and making sure we’re well-equipped to properly maintain our roads and bridges.”

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