WOONSOCKET – The concrete deck of the Singleton Street Bridge is getting a mini-makeover after public works crews found a hole clean through it.
City officials discovered the problem after state bridge inspectors reported there was “a pothole” in the deck a couple of weeks ago. But Public Works Director Sheila McGauvran said that when city highway crews checked they found an opening in the deck about the size of the briefcase.
“You could look right through it and see the Blackstone River,” she said.
The rupture appears to have been caused by the disintegration of a prior asphalt patch. McGauvran said the hole has already been refilled with the preferred material, concrete, which will take about 30 days to cure.
However, the public works director said there are other asphalt patches on the deck that are also at risk of wearing away. In a bit of preventive maintenance, the city has decided to remove those as well and refill them with concrete so the problem does not recur elsewhere.
Crews will work on only one of the Singleton Street Bridge’s two lanes at a time, so one lane will always be open to traffic while the work continues. The bridge spans the Blackstone River near the North Smithfield line and is the only traffic link between Harris Avenue and River Street.
“We’re going to continue working on the bridge, probably through the end of July,” said McGauvran.
The Singleton Street Bridge and three others like it are the black sheep of the city’s bridge family. Its siblings are the Sayles Street Bridge, the Fairmount Street Bridge and the River Street Bridge.
What makes them so dubiously distinguished is that they’re steel truss bridges whose massive superstructures are encased in rust. The four bridges were built as part of a comprehensive flood control project by the Army Corps of Engineers over 50 years ago. The federal agency decided the new network of bridges, pumps and levees were needed to protect the city after back-to-back hurricanes caused widespread flooding that wiped out whole neighborhoods in 1955.
Many now complain that the four bridges are eyesores. In addition to the rust problem, the decks of the bridges are also in various stages of disrepair – Sayles Street is among the worst, with deep ruts and potholes that force motorists to slow to a crawl as they cross the span near the Glenark Landing.
Improving the general appearance of the bridges, unfortunately, is not as simple as slapping a coat of paint on them. Under prevailing environmental regulations, the Blackstone River would have to be protected from sandblasting debris, paint or other materials. That means the bridges would have to be wrapped in a sort of protective plastic cocoon while the work is under way.
“This is a problem that goes back decades,” said Mayor Leo T. Fontaine. “Because you’d have to encapsulate the whole structure to make sure nothing gets in the river, the cost becomes economically prohibitive.”
Painting the bridges is not on the cash-strapped city’s near-term agenda. Because the bridges are owned by the city, it would have to shoulder the entire cost of such a project.
Though they’re owned by the city, local projects can qualify for state funding under the Transportation Improvement Plan, or TIP, according to McGauvran. The city has asked th state Department of Transportation for help with the bridges in the past, but they haven’t been added to the TIP.
Despite the timeworn appearance of the four bridges, state transportation officials say they are functional and structurally sound, according to a report on the condition of city- and town-owned bridges listed on DOT’s web site. The report, issued in March, says three of the bridges, Fairmount, Sayles and Singleton streets, were built in 1958, River Street, a year later.
The report also indicates that the bridges essentially consist of the original parts that were used to build them. There is no record of the bridges ever having been rehabilitated in any significant way since they were built.
Though McGauvran said DOT inspected the Singleton Street structure more recently, the Fairmount Street and River Street bridges were last inspected on May 24 and June 14 of 2012, respectively, according to the report. The Sayles Street Bridge was last inspected on Aug. 3, 2011.
DOT says there are 20 bridges in the city, and the city owns 18 of them. The only bridges owned by the state are the Hamlet Avenue Bridge spanning the Blackstone River and the Diamond Hill Road Bridge over the Peter’s River.