The Hummel Report

Investigative Reports That Get Results

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More Than Meet the Eye

For the better part of the last year and a half The Airport Connector in Warwick has been a maze of orange barrels and Jersey barriers – giving a not-so-friendly welcome to passengers and visitors at T.F. Green Airport. But for long stretches no one has been working behind the barriers - leaving motorists wondering why the route to the airport is a work zone, with seemingly no work at times. This week Jim Hummel sits down with the director of the Rhode Island D.O.T., who explains why resources were being diverted three miles away as part of the same project.

SCRIPT:

For the better part of the last year and a half The Airport Connector in Warwick has been a maze of orange barrels and Jersey barriers – giving a not-so-friendly welcome to passengers and visitors to T.F. Green Airport.

During that time Green has become a hot airport, recently ranked by a national travel magazine as one of the top 10 airports in the country. Passenger traffic is up and four new airlines are providing service after the completion of a runway extension project decades in the making. Even the New England Patriots announced they’d be parking one of the Boeing 767 team plans at the airport, at the ready for road games.

But the Uber and taxi drivers hear a familiar conversation when they pick up or drop passengers off. They ask about the ongoing construction.

``And it seems like it’s never going to end,’’ Uber Driver Dave Ransom told The Hummel Report. ``They had barrels up long before the construction began. And often you might see one or two flaggers out there. You’ll see days where there’s a single police car there, but most of the time there’s no activity, it’s just a mess.’’

The Airport Connector Project began in March of 2016 and is scheduled for completion until next year– a two-year window for what looks like the repair of three separate bridges along the mile-long stretch of the highway.

But The Hummel Report has learned there is a reason for the apparent lack of activity at times along the connector: reconstruction of those three bridges is part of a larger $8.2-million project that had workers many times over the past year assigned three miles away repairing four additional bridges on Route 2 near the Warwick Mall. The entire project, including a total of seven bridges, isn’t scheduled for completion until next summer.

16:07 could we have designed it differently and phased it different? Yes, I think we can and we’re doing that now with our new projects.

During a wide-ranging interview last week, DOT Director Peter Alviti said the department had already sunk nearly half a million dollars of design work into the seven-bridge project when he arrived as director in early 2015. The main reason for bundling so many bridges was economy of scale: Alviti said the state will save nearly a million dollars.

But that has left motorists at times wondering why the route to the airport is a work zone, with seemingly no work.

Work picked up significantly late last month after we started make inquiries. After days of only one or two workers on the three bridges, a crew on the last Friday of October began pouring concrete on the bridge deck that spans Post Road on the westbound side.

D.O.T. traffic counts estimate the Airport Connector carries 36,000 vehicles a day; of those, 8,000 travel all the way to Green Airport, with the others peeling off at either the Jefferson Boulevard or Post Road exits along the way..

***12:42 I know there have been some discussions, particularly with the people you’ve been talking to, that they think it’s taking too long. :49 We started the project in March of 2016 and it will be completed in May of 18…..13:02 And that is the period of time that was designed into the construction period. JH Who made that determination? PA 13:11 it kind of evolved out of the original design that we’ve got and the way they would have to be done and the way the bid package was constructed, to take that amount of time: 20

Aliviti said this project involves renovation, and not bridge replacement, which can take a lot longer. The department could not use an accelerated bridge program as it did last month on a stretch of Route 95 in Exeter, and a year ago when the D.O.T. replaced two bridges over two separate weekends in East Providence, minimizing traffic disruption and saving millions of dollars in construction costs.

At the Airport Connector, the contractor has to do extensive work that includes concrete repairs, waterproofing, replacing bridge joints and minor paving and striping. Some of that work is under the bridge, out of the view of most motorists.

19:15 When you’re doing seven bridge projects at one time it could be that materials become available, steel becomes available it becomes available at another project and you move people over to that other poroject to addresss that delivery,or it could be that you deal with concrete poured at one location and while it’s curing you move your people to another location whether they’re doing similar kind of work 19:41

23:44 Could we have shortened the time period? I’m sure we could. I’ve talked with the project managers on this job and had we designed and implemented it differently we could have phased it so that rather than having all seven bridges have some kind of traffic controls put on them, we could have done them individually, so that each one would have had the traffic controls in a little shorter period of time.’’

Avliti said the seven bridges were in varying stages of degradation but the D.O.T. is making a pre-emptive strike now with repair work so it doesn’t have to replace them later at four or five times the cost. As for how the project looks? Alviti said that all depends on who is looking at it.

22:01 ``Aesthetics are very subjective. To a person like me driving into an airport and seeing that kind of construction going on,  I’m saying to myself `Here’s a state that’s investing in their infrastructure and I like to see construction going . It means they’re investing in maintaining their roads and bridges, right? To other the mere appearance of a cone, because it’s a different color or whatever can be distracting, and may not be as aesthetically pleasing. We understand that. ‘’

Alviti noted, and the Rhode Island Airport Corporation confirmed, they have received no complaints of traffic backups that have caused any passengers to miss flights. The Rhode Island State Police said it investigated 13 crashes over the past year on the Airport Connector and exit/entrance ramps leading to it.

Alviti said this project has made him and the department rethink their approach going forward.

29:00 What I I think we could have done in this case is put requirements in to phase the work, so that concentration is on maybe one or two bridges, instead of seven at all once…..29:26And put milestones for the completion of each one that would still get it done in that two-year period, but the disruption in any one area would have been shorter-lived.’’

The good news is the project is on time and on budget and the eastbound work has been completed for the season with both lanes recently reopened for the winter. The department expects the same for the westbound lanes by the end of the month. Next year, the contractor will be back to finish up the project. The contract allows for a winter shutdown between December and April. A milder winter could accelerate the completion date.

And this is what the eastbound lane looked like last week, orange barrels gone and smooth sailing into the airport. A reprieve, until work resumes again in the spring.

In Warwick, Jim Hummel for The Hummel Report.