WOONSOCKET – Just in time for the school year, the discovery of structural problems with the Hamlet Avenue Bridge prompted state transportation officials to close off two of the span’s four lanes Tuesday morning – for the foreseeable future.
Public Works Director Sheila McGauvran said the problem is associated with the failure of an expansion grate at the eastbound approach to the bridge, which crosses the Blackstone River.
The problem was discovered by Highway Supt. Rick Lambert, according to McGauvran. The state Department of Transportation later dispatched inspectors to take a look.
“They agreed that the problem was serious and complicated,” said McGauvran. “The whole bridge, starting today, until it can be rebuilt, will be reduced to two lanes and that’s probably going to be until next summer.”
The two outer lanes of the bridge, heading in opposite directions, remain open to traffic, but the two center lanes have been shut down.
Orange and white traffic barriers were diverting traffic to the outer lanes as a DOT construction crew was making temporary repairs yesterday afternoon.
“It’s going to stay like this for a while,” said a DOT worker who identified himself as the job superintendent, but he referred questions to the public affairs office.
McGauvran said the Hamlet Avenue Bridge is owned by the state, which has told city officials it has not yet identified any funding for permanent repairs. She said it was likely the center lanes of the bridge would be closed for at least the better part of a year, unless DOT somehow locates emergency resources to begin repairs more quickly.
The bridge is a critical transportation artery in the city whose diminished capacity will likely cause significant inconveniences to the motoring public. Among other things, school buses heading to the middle school complex from the east side of the city must cross the bridge to drop off students. Those buses, along with other motorists, will be squeezed into a single lane of westbound traffic.
Eastbound buses won’t have as much of a problem because the entrance to the school complex is located about 50 yards before the approach on that side of the bridge. Still, with two fewer lanes than normal on the bridge, all traffic is bound to knot up along Hamlet Avenue and Cumberland Street, particularly at peak travel times.
Efforts to reach DOT spokeswoman Rose Amoros yesterday were not successful.
Follow Russ Olivo on Twitter @russolivo