Wickford’s Hussey Memorial Bridge is a village icon as well as a lifeline for the thousands of people who travel it every day. It’s also one of six bridges in Rhode Island deemed “structurally deficient” (in poor condition) and “fracture critical” (a bridge with a tension element, whose failure could cause the bridge to collapse) by the Federal Highway Administration.
The Hussey has been on the list for repairs for several years, but according to the state Department of Transportation, work on the span has finally moved center stage.
“It’s in final design phase,” said David Fish, head of bridge design for the Rhode Island Dept. of Transportation. It should go out to bid spring 2014 with construction starting fall 2014 and completed before summer 2015, to avoid the busy summer season.
Fish said the Hussey’s “fracture critical” classification comes from its steel tension rod design. A definition from the Federal Highway Administration reads:
"The National Bridge Inventory Standard defines a fracture-critical member as “a steel member in tension, or with a tension element, whose failure would probably cause a portion of or the entire bridge to collapse.”
“Structural deficiency has to do with deterioration,” said Fish. The bridge was last “rehabilitated” in 1977.
Despite these classifications, the bridge is safe, Fish stressed. Because of the classifications, the Hussey is inspected yearly. The typical bridge inspection rate is every 24 months. The Hussey was last inspected in January 2013, according to DOT.
“We’re very safety conscious,” said Fish. “Even though it’s ominous sounding, [bridges with these classifications] are not about to collapse. We do our due diligence to make sure we ensure the safety of the traveling public.”
Work slated for the bridge includes steel repairs, sidewalk improvement (both on the bridge and approaching the bridge), cable improvements, patches to the concrete arches, repairs to the abutments, and drainage and roadway approach improvements.
How will this affect traffic over the bridge?
According to Fish, the work will close lanes to traffic, but not the entire bridge. “We want as few impacts as possible on the economic vitality of Wickford,” he said. DOT is working with the town, said Fish.
“The latest set of plans that I reviewed showed alternating one way traffic during the day, regulated by temporary traffic signals,” said NK public works director Phil Bergeron. He said plans he saw indicated there may be times the bridge would be closed at night but he said he wasn’t sure that was still the case.“I will have more information when I see the final design drawings from DOT,” he said.
You can read more about the Hussey Memorial Bridge, its design and history, here.