Blame it on the bridge

Posted 2/8/24

As long as you’re driving in Rhode Island, the Washington Bridge is the cause for every traffic delay.

I found myself thinking that Saturday morning driving south on Route 4. As soon as …

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Blame it on the bridge


As long as you’re driving in Rhode Island, the Washington Bridge is the cause for every traffic delay.

I found myself thinking that Saturday morning driving south on Route 4. As soon as the road branched off from Route 95, the traffic slowed. Usually cars move quickly on this stretch of the road even on a hot July weekend when people are heading to the beaches, but on Saturday a long metallic line crept at 40 MPH.

I had planned my trip down to North Kingstown and then over to Barrington around the weekend and the bridge. I was told there could be some delays at the bridge but Saturday morning would be a breeze. So, what on earth could be tying things up on Route 4, heading south and away from Providence? I ruled out the prospect that motorists were backed up to East Greenwich in an effort to cross the Newport Bridge to get to the east bay. It had to be something else. Indeed it was. As I approached the Exeter turnoff and the traffic started to move, it became clear all the blinking tail lights ahead were a funeral procession headed for the Veterans Cemetery.

So, that was a bit of a delay, but I should still be able to make a pickup at my son’s house in Saunderstown, circle back to Providence across the Washington Bridge, make the delivery of two white  oak planks to Barrington and be home by noon. I built a 20-minute bridge delay into my calculations to be on the safe side.

Retracing my steps the northbound traffic on 95 slowed at the airport exit where it inched along to Route 37. My plan was starting to come apart. I called Charlie in Barrington who was anticipating the wood he would fashion into ribs to replace those that had rotted in my Rhodes 19 sailboat.

“Looks like I won’t get there for another hour.”

 There was a pause on the line.

“Don’t worry about it, we can do it another time. Find a place to turn around.”

Turn around, how do you do that in the middle of 95?

I looked to see which lane was moving. The far left lane offered promise, although all four lanes were virtually stopped. I put on my blinker, but that was futile. The driver to my left was stopped, as were those ahead and to my right. Finally a flashing sign came into view directing traffic left, and farther along was another flashing sign. Route 95 north was being closed one lane at a time. The bottleneck came into view. Dressed in reflective vests, two men in a bucket truck worked on the belly of an overhead span while others swept up the falling debris. Traffic was narrowed to a single lane.

Surely this bridge had a name. Had a “young engineer”, unidentified of course, spotted a defect, and now a crew was hastily dispatched to deal with the problem? For an instant I thought of pulling over, snapping a couple of pictures and getting the details, assuming the workers would be willing to talk with the media. But there was to be no slowing down now that I’d reached the breach. The road ahead was a welcome runway and I was soon headed for the Washington Bridge at 60 MPH. The Thurbers Avenue curve was clear, the merge with 195 smooth. The bridge offered no delays.  The solution to congestion seemed obvious – just slow everybody down before arriving at the bridge and as long as things were moving, albeit at the pace of a school zone (speed cameras would ensure that) Director Alviti and Governor McKee could tout this as a temporary inconvenience. Be patient, you’ll get there.

Charlie had been patient. I arrived a good 45 minutes later than I estimated. He slid the planks from the back of the car bringing them down to the cellar where he would work his magic. While I could have stayed and chatted about sailing, I reasoned it was time to head back. Charlie’s wife, Pat, pulled into the drive. It wasn’t five minutes before we were talking about the Washington Bridge that she uses daily to visit her mother on West Bay. She had plenty to say about the deteriorated bridge pins, how they should have been detected earlier and that heads should roll. Charlie suggested it might be best to wait until the bridge is fixed or at least until there is a plan to fix it. Pat also lit into McKee for his insensitive portrayal of delays as a mere inconvenience.

I stayed out of it, informing them I’d better head back before spending the full afternoon on the East Bay.

Even though it was an early Saturday afternoon in February and the sun was shining for the first time in weeks, lanes of motorists were heading west toward Providence. Long before the Broadway exit it all came to a tortoise’s pace. The driver to my right had her window down and blinker on. I gave her a wave to pull ahead. When established in the lane, she raised her arm out the window. For an instant I thought she was going to extend her middle finger to express her opinion of the bridge mess. But no, she waved her arm weighed down with glistening bracelets, in a celebration of one small manoeuver in a passage of frustration. I laughed and I imagine many surrounding motorists were doing the same…one triumph at a time.

side up, editorial, bridge


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