Pedestrians have been walking into traffic on the west side of the Pawtucket Avenue overpass at Interstate 195 in East Providence for years because the sidewalk is blocked by concrete barriers and a chain-link gate.
East Providence Mayor Bruce Rogers considers it a major safety problem that could get someone seriously injured or killed.
“The whole corner is a mess,” Rogers said. “The bridge has been blocked for years. We need to take the barricades down.”
David Fish, managing engineer for bridges at the RI Department of Transportation (RIDOT), said the barriers were put in place after a truck struck the overpass and damaged two beams on the west side of the overpass. But RIDOT did not eliminate a traffic lane; it only shut down the sidewalk.
“There was a choice of posting the structure or separating the damaged pieces,” he said. “The barriers were put up to close the sidewalk until the overpass is repaired.”
Most of the weight on the damaged beams still comes from vehicles, however, not pedestrians, he agreed. And the concrete barriers on the sidewalk weigh thousands of pounds -- far more than pedestrians on the bridge.
So, the primary safety issue on the overpass appears to be with pedestrians who are not crossing the four-lane street to the east side so they can safely get to the other side of the overpass.
Instead, they are walking in a traffic lane or walking behind the concrete barriers until they can’t go any farther because of the gate and then jumping over the barriers into a traffic lane. Rogers said he has seen people jump over the barriers into traffic.
Fish told Patch that he would contact the traffic section of RIDOT and ask for “an investigation of the crosswalk,” any dangers associated with the closed sidewalk, and if it even needs to be closed.
He said he did not know why only one gate was installed (on the east side) to keep pedestrians from walking behind the concrete barriers.
Regarding the overpass itself, Fish said, it will not be repaired. It will be replaced completely in the spring of 2014 – over one weekend.
“We have been studying accelerated bridge construction techniques,” Fish said.
Those techniques were used to build the I-Way in Providence, he said. They involve using self-propelled modular transporters that can lift incredibly heavy loads, he said.
In other words, the bridge will be built in a nearby field, wheeled to the location, and then lifted into place by the modular transporters.
“We can get the bridge built and open over a weekend,” Fish said.
The design of the new bridge is about 30 percent complete, he said. RIDOT expects to advertise for bids by late next year with construction in the spring of 2014.
In the meantime, pedestrians will have a choice of using the sidewalk on the east side of the bridge or taking their chances on the west side.