The discovery of deteriorating structural components has forced the emergency closure of the westbound span of the Washington Bridge, one of Providence, R.I.’s key gateway structures.

Constructed in 1968, the 1,671-ft-long bridge carrying I-195 over the Seekonk River had remained open during a five-year, $78-million design-build reconstruction effort begun in 2021 by the Barletta Heavy Division and Aetna Bridge Co. joint venture, with VHB as lead designer. On Dec. 8, Rhode Island Dept. of Transportation (RIDOT) officials say, a VHB engineer noticed an apparent failure of a 2-ft-long steel anchor rod in a bridge section that was not part of the reconstruction work.

An intense inspection conducted over the weekend revealed “other deficiencies that were happening in a kind of cascading way,” RIDOT Director Peter Alviti told reporters at a Dec. 12 press conference, leading the agency to completely close the bridge that morning.

According to VHB’s report to RIDOT, several steel rods in a span between piers 6 and 7 showed evidence of deterioration and failure through corrosion and shearing. At one location, inspectors observed “bouncing” of both the components and of cantilever end and tiedown under live load.” Diaphragm spalling was also found at several locations.

The cause of the rod failures has yet to be determined. Alviti told reporters that the bridge’s most recent inspection, conducted this past July, found the structure to be “in good condition,” with no problems in the area where the anchor rod failures were found.

A RIDOT spokesperson told ENR that the project team has already begun work toward the repair, which could take up to three months. Construction is underway on establishing a crossover to temporarily divert two lanes of westbound traffic onto the separate eastbound span. That work should be completed within the next two weeks. Emergency response vehicles will be allowed to use one lane of the structure during the closure.

Carrying more than 96,000 vehicles per day, the Washington Bridge is one of the busiest sections of Interstate highway in the state, according to RIDOT. The bridge is also the source of chronic congestion with backups often extending several miles to the Massachusetts state line, the agency says.

The bridge’s previous rehabilitation took place in the mid-1990s. In its successful 2019 application for a $25-million federal grant support the reconstruction project, RIDOT noted that the bridge had a poor superstructure rating, and that a 2017 below-deck inspection found exposed rebar chairs, rust staining and efflorescence, random hairline cracking and hollow areas, and isolated spalls.

“Exposed rebar can be found at the ends of the prestressed drop-in girders in spans, at the post-tensioned concrete corbels that support those girders at the ends of the cantilever girders, and more,” the report added. “In addition to these deficient areas, there are cracked webs and bottom flanges, spalls with exposed rebars, and hollow areas in the closed box girders in certain spans.”

The current reconstruction project includes structural rehabilitation of the westbound Washington Bridge to current standards, partial widening to provide five continuous travel lanes and the addition of a new off-ramp Waterfront Drive in East Providence to support economic development efforts in the area. The original timeline calls for work to be completed in 2026.