Cumberland officials fear the loss of more key bridges

Cumberland officials fear the loss of more key bridges

The Howard Road bridge in Cumberland has been closed since June.

CUMBERLAND – The inconvenience being experienced by residents in the neighborhood of the Howard Road bridge is just the tip of the iceberg, say town officials.

Cumberland has a number of tiny bridges that could create major problems when they’re finally replaced, they say.

Councilor Bob Shaw said old bridges across town may be small, but they are key points of access for motorists. Eventual replacement of spans such as the Manville Hill Road bridge or the Diamond Hill Road bridge at Nate Whipple Highway will cause problems across town.

“Any bridge, I don’t care how small or big, it’s such a vital part to the life of a town,” he said.

Shaw said he fears a scenario where many bridges reach the end of their lives around the same time.

“It’s like we’re in a bridge bubble right now, where all these bridges are at the peak of destruction,” he said, calling it “a very scary thing.”

The Town Council at its next meeting will consider whether to move forward with Mayor Bill Murray’s plan to reconstruct the Howard Road bridge next spring. That plan represents an alternative to waiting for the state to get the work done. The estimated cost of that project is now about $750,000, according to Murray, and the state will reimburse the money at a later date.

Ted Faltus, of 47 Louis Luther Drive, said it’s good to finally have a commitment to rebuild the bridge near his home next spring, but said he’s not sure why the condition of the badly deteriorated bridge took officials by surprise. He noted that officials have been discussing the poor condition of the bridge since his two children were in elementary school, and one child is now out of college and another one is a sophomore in college.

Faltus said nothing was done about the Howard Road bridge until residents forced the issue. For years, he said, town workers would come out to put down fresh pieces of plywood to patch up the structure.

The resident said he and others are greatly inconvenienced by having the bridge closed since June.

“We have to go through Massachusetts for everything we do,” he said.

Shaw said there’s been more talk in the past year than in the past decade about replacing local bridges. He said he likes that Murray is thinking creatively in getting the Howard Road bridge done quickly. That kind of thinking will be increasingly important as officials address additional bridges in the near future, he said.

The Breeze reported last week that the Rhode Island Department of Transportation will prepare the necessary design and construction documents for the restoration of the bridge decking and supporting floor beams of the Howard Road bridge. The documents will be made available to the town to advertise for bidding and contract. The Department of Public Works will administer the project.