On March 26th, tragedy struck the City of Baltimore and all Americans when the Francis Scott Key Bridge was destroyed by a cargo ship that lost power. Despite the Key Bridge reportedly being in “Fair Condition,” this horrific tragedy is a sad reminder of the poor state of many of our roads and bridges in the United States.

Massachusetts’ bridge system is the oldest in our country, with an average age of 56. A MassDOT report shows over 450 bridges across the state are deemed “Structurally Deficient.” Some of this is, of course, due to the mature nature of our commonwealth, but the issue stands nonetheless. The South Coast is no stranger to bridge infrastructure challenges. Infrastructure challenges related to progress and investment, such as the completed construction of the Veteran’s Memorial Bridge in Somerset or the upcoming work on the New Bedford-Fairhaven Bridge, while frustrating at the time, are positive developments in our road and bridge inventory. On the other hand, infrastructure challenges caused by a lack of attention and action can devastate a community and an economy, as we have witnessed firsthand with the Washington Bridge in East Providence.

It has been over four months since the abrupt closure of the westbound lane of Interstate 195 in East Providence. This is not just a minor inconvenience. It is a significant disruption to our daily lives. On December 11th at 5:00 PM, during peak rush hour, Rhode Island officials concluded that the bridge needed to be closed due to severe structural concerns. Initially, reports were that the bridge would need to be closed for a few months due to repairs. Well, four months later, and a visit from the United States Secretary of Transportation himself, Pete Buttigieg, we learned that this scenario was far from reality. Engineers have determined that the bridge’s westbound side needs to be rebuilt entirely, an effort estimated to take a minimum of two years. This is a situation that demands immediate attention and action.

Most media outlets in Rhode Island have covered the Washington Bridge saga thoroughly. While it has made some local headlines, the impact of the Washington Bridge delays on Massachusetts residents and businesses is not receiving the attention it deserves.

The truth of the matter is the business community here on the South Coast is feeling the impact. The travel times over the Washington Bridge have skyrocketed, depending on the time of day. Employers are now facing increased staffing challenges, delivery delays, and operational inefficiencies due to transportation uncertainties.

Southeastern Massachusetts boasts several beautiful tourist attractions, including Battleship Cove and the Narrows Center for the Arts in Fall River, the Whaling Museum and the Zeiterion Performing Arts Center in New Bedford, Horseneck Beach in Westport, and much more. However, a significant boost to the local economy comes from out-of-state vacationers from New York, Connecticut, and Rhode Island en route to Cape Cod. These visitors often stop along the I-195 corridor for authentic Portuguese food, world-class seafood, to gas up their vehicles, grab a coffee, stretch their legs, and admire our robust arts and culture scene. This pass-through activity will be significantly impacted if these delays are not addressed.

As I write this, according to GoogleMaps (a GPS service provided by Google), if a driver is heading north on Interstate-95 from anywhere South of Providence with Cape Cod as their final destination, GoogleMaps is currently directing them to stay on I-95, surpass the I-195 exit east, and instead, continue north on I-95. This route will direct them to take I-495 South until they reach the Bourne Bridge. While this route is technically about eight miles longer, the driver saves significant time, avoiding the delays caused by the Washington Bridge. This reroute allows travelers heading to Cape Cod to completely circumvent Southeastern Massachusetts and its fantastic businesses and experiences.

The Rhode Island Department of Transportation is implementing a redesign of the east and westbound lanes to allow for six smaller lanes of traffic, as opposed to the current 4-lane design. There is optimism that this new design should help alleviate some congestion.

One SouthCoast is banging the drum on behalf of the business community. We are encouraged by Secretary Buttigieg’s visit, and we have meetings scheduled with the offices of Congressman Auchincloss, Congressman Keating, Senator Markey, and Senator Warren. We have met with Representatives from the Small Business Administration (SBA) and will continue to advocate on your behalf. The Small Business Administration (SBA) has declared the bridge closure an Economic Disaster, and low-interest SBA loans are available for businesses in Bristol County who qualify. For more information on these opportunities, please get in touch with Ian Trombly at itrombly@onesouthcoast.com.

Ian Trombly

Vice President of Public Policy