Rhode Island bridge restriction has truckers in fits

| Friday, May 08, 2009

A weight-limited bridge over the Pawtucket River in Rhode Island has caught more than a few truckers off guard. Some aren’t seeing the detour sign until it’s too late and they are given citations.

Long-haulers like Rick Ford say the signage en route to the I-95 bridge between downtown Providence and the Massachusetts border isn’t exactly clear. He believes that the state may be using the 18-ton weight limit as a way to trap out-of-state drivers and generate revenue.

“I had a perfect driving record until now,” said Ford, an OOIDA member from Knoxville, TN, with 35 years of trucking experience.

On April 29, he was pulled over at Exit 30 for crossing the bridge and received an $85 fine and four points against his CDL.

“It wasn’t clear just what to do,” Ford told Land Line. “With the sign, you think it’s a bridge going into Pawtucket and not an interstate bridge. It’s obvious people aren’t understanding this.”

Rhode Island Department of Transportation spokesman Charles St. Martin says nobody is out to get truckers. He said the bridge was first posted at 22 tons more than a year ago, but the posting was changed to 18 tons after a reevaluation of the steel.

“We’ve put adequate signage out,” St. Martin told Land Line. “We’re still surprised about the number of trucks and the number of citations.”

A $100 million replacement should break ground next spring, he added. The state will do the construction project in stages and lift the weight limit gradually.

“There’s too much traffic for the bridge to shut down,” St. Martin said, adding that the Pawtucket River Bridge carries 150,000 vehicles per day.

Replacement will start with the construction of a third span. Northbound traffic would be shifted to the new span as work begins to replace the southbound span.

Ford said he has consulted an attorney to decide whether he should fight the ticket. He wants fellow truckers to be aware of the weight limit and to plan ahead.

“You’ve got some trucks that go over it, and then you got the unlucky ones that get pulled over,” he said.

Rhode Island is taking steps to fix another weight-limited bridge, the Sakonnet Bridge, which is currently posted as having an 18-ton limit.

– By David Tanner, staff writer