Structural deterioration that forced the December 2023 partial closure of Providence, R.I.’s Washington Bridge is more severe than originally thought, according to state transportation officials, necessitating demolition and replacement of the 56-year-old westbound span.

According to the Rhode Island Dept. of Transportation, an in-depth inspection of the 1,671-ft-long Seekonk River crossing was performed by a team of engineering companies and reviewed by McNary, Bergeron & Johannesen, a third-party bridge construction firm.

Finding no viable way to repair the bridge, the review concluded, “the superstructure (deck and girders) and part or all of the substructure (piers and foundations) need to be replaced to meet current design code requirements and provide a bridge with a 100-year life cycle.” Demolition and replacement will cost as much as $300 million, the review added.

RIDOT officials are currently working to identify funding sources, including federal grants, with an eye toward awarding a design-build contract by the end of July. A new bridge could be substantially complete by September 2026, the agency says.

In the interim, the existing eastbound structure, opened in 1930 and reconstructed in 2008, will carry three lanes of I-195 traffic in each direction. Under normal conditions, the crossing handles nearly 100,000 vehicles daily.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg visited the bridge on March 19, and vowed to work with the state to make sure it has “everything they need…whether we’re talking about the technical dimensions, whether we’re talking about the funding that’s needed, or tearing down administrative barriers with all of the parties on the ground here.”

The partial closure occurred as the westbound structure was nearly halfway through a five-year, $78-million design-build reconstruction effort the Barletta Heavy Division and Aetna Bridge Company joint venture, with VHB as lead designer. The Dec. 8 discovery of an apparent failure of a 2-ft-long steel anchor rod in a bridge section that was not part of the reconstruction work spurred a more intense inspection that revealed other deficiencies. RIDOT originally projected that repairing the issues would last three months.

“Lives were saved by the inspection that found this issue so that it could be addressed through construction, rather than after something bad happened,” Buttigieg said during his visit.

While RIDOT has yet to determine a cause of the deterioration, the state’s Department of Justice has launched a separate investigation into the need for the sudden bridge shutdown. Gov. Dan McKee (D) promised to hold those responsible for the bridge’s condition accountable.

 “The day of accountability is coming,” McKee told reporters on March 14. “And it’s coming soon.”