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Council Supports Installation of Median on Newport Pell Bridge

Newport  Bridge Accident on Dec. 23, 2013.  (Photo Credit: Stephen P. Ford)
Newport Bridge Accident on Dec. 23, 2013. (Photo Credit: Stephen P. Ford)
In a 7-0 vote on Wednesday night, Newport City Council voted to join the Town Council of Jamestown to request the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority install a center median barrier on the Newport Pell Bridge and request that law enforcement strictly enforce speeding and distracted driving laws.

The decision came only weeks after Elijah Swift, 75, of Exeter, was killed in a head-on collision on Christmas Eve. 

By March, engineers should be ready to make a recommendation about the installation of a median, David Darlington, chairman of the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority told The Jamestown Press.

Darlington also said the 40 mph speed limit needs to be reduced and enforced, possibly with the installation of speed cameras. He added the issue, which involves complicated engineering questions, has been studied since 2006.

If a decision is made to install a median, it will not be before 2015, said Darlington.

But the question remains: "What do locals want?"  Here is what some had to say on the Newport Patch Facebook Page.


Kimberly Wagner I think that people shouldn't be speeding and should pay more attention. We don't have a median down East Main or West Main Road.

Raychel Brown Put speed bumps on the bridge rather than a median

Amy McCoil Yes!! It doesn't matter if you personally have never had an issue. But until something is installed I guess I will keep driving "properly". And hope everyone else does too.

Andrea Phelps Aaahhh yes! Enough talk do something about it before there are more people injured or killed. My word put up a median it's a no brainier

Nancy Downing Yes!!! How many more accidents is it going to take...

What do you think? Tell us in the comments section below


Eve Waterhouse January 10, 2014 at 09:14 AM
As tragic as these accidents are, I do not believe a median barrier is the answer. The far better solution is that people must be made to stop their distracted driving and drive the speed limit. I am imagining how difficult a median barrier will make ongoing bridge maintenance (a fact of life) and response to accidents. I can also imagine how a median barrier will cause accidents; if a car in the inside lane should bump a barrier, it will bounce off and veer into the outside lane. Beware unintended consequences.
Judy B January 10, 2014 at 10:56 AM
It's the design of the bridge and not only the people. If it were only the drivers, the accident rate would be just as bad on the Jamestown bridge. Why second guess the experts who have repeatedly suggested median barriers on the bridge?
melanie hebrock January 10, 2014 at 11:22 AM
Placing a median on the bridge would cut down the bridge to 2 lanes. How will they close off a lane to work on the bridge?
Genevive January 10, 2014 at 05:16 PM
I'm glad to hear they are recognizing the speed problem on the bridge as well. Few drive the 40 mph limit. The average I witness is between 50-70. I drive 40-45 in the far side lane and am passed by nearly everyone. Driving in the inner lane I feel inches away from oncoming traffic moving at high velocity. It's no wonder we've had recurring accidents. I hope there's speed checks ahead.
Tom January 10, 2014 at 09:33 PM
I can see the divider now covered with rust scratches and tire marks. I would put my money on that there will be more accidents when cars from the passing lane are deflected into the right lane...
Elynn Kearns January 11, 2014 at 12:58 AM
Speed limit enforcement is a great idea. Distracted driving enforcement is a great idea. But, if the Christmas Eve crash taught us anything, it's that sometimes, an accident is "just" an accident. Elijah Swift was probably not texting when he crossed the center line; we may never know exactly what happened, but it's irrelevant. The bottom line is that regardless of the cause, cross-over accidents are often the most devastating kind of collision, and a barrier could save you from that. Melanie Hebrock, a median barrier would not cut the bridge down to two lanes. I don't know where folks are getting that idea, but it's inaccurate. There would still be two lanes of traffic in each direction, just as there are today.
Steve January 11, 2014 at 07:44 AM
The engineer in me wonders about the impact of the added weight of a center divider on a suspension bridge that was designed and built without one. Some careful study and engineering work will need to be done.
Larry Gotch January 11, 2014 at 08:58 AM
If they are smart, they will put a 'temporary' Jersey Barrier in first to see if it works. If it is an improvement, then they can go for a permanent one. If not it is easily removed.
Ian January 11, 2014 at 09:28 AM
The Golden Gate bridge, which has a lot more traffic and 6 traffic lanes doesn't even have a median. What they do implement occasionally, depending on morning or afternoon rush hour and traffic flow, are these solid yellow posts that are removable and are implanted into the pavement as a temporary barrier. Maybe that could be a viable solution for the Pell bridge median dilemma, as it would be cost effective, simplify the engineering, wouldn't add much additional weight, and could serve as a permanent barrier directly on top of the double yellow lines. I also suggest that if people are hesitant or fearful to drive on this bridge, they should choose to drive in the outside lanes.
Peg Drenckhahn January 11, 2014 at 11:53 AM
i'm with Larry, let's try it out. It is unnerving to have those cars coming at you at 50-60 mph
Judy B January 11, 2014 at 01:51 PM
The Golden Gate bridge is in the process of replacing the median posts/cones with removable concrete and steel barriers: The installation of a one-foot-wide concrete moveable median barrier would virtually eliminate crossover collisions, according to them. Various engineering studies have been done for RITBA for almost 10 years. The engineers say that the weight of median barriers would help to stabilize the bridge and decrease the instability known as fluttering. If RITBA was more transparent, the public would know much more about the studies and the various options.
Robert E January 12, 2014 at 03:34 PM
Next time Ian do your research. "Median barrier coming to Golden Gate Bridge in late 2014 (09-23) 13:33 PDT SAN FRANCISCO -- Golden Gate Bridge directors on Friday finally approved a long-awaited median barrier designed to prevent head-on crashes on the famed span - but under pressure to plug a burgeoning budget hole, they have also begun discussing the idea of another toll hike. The Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District Board of Directors voted overwhelmingly to authorize the $26.5 million movable barrier made of steel and concrete. The installation would happen over a 52-hour weekend closure in late October or early November 2014, which the district said would cause the least disruption. The barrier will be 12 inches wide, 32 inches tall and 11,538 feet long, and built by Lindsay Transportation Systems. "Zipper trucks" will move the steel walls filled with concrete into its lane configurations, replacing the yellow plastic tubes that currently serve as a median. The last fatal head-on collision was in 2001, and 16 people have died in such accidents since 1970. Even though the concept of a movable barrier was approved in 1998, the project stalled for years due to a lack of funding." http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Median-barrier-coming-to-Golden-Gate-Bridge-in-4830976.php
Ian January 12, 2014 at 05:16 PM
Take it easy Robert E. I was just making an observation for the reality as it has been forever on the Golden Gate. I didn't do research, just making a simple observation and a suggestion. Personally, I feel that there is no way to prevent or diminish the possibility of every accident from happening. There are plenty of roads that exist in this country that have relatively high-speed two-way traffic without a median between the two lanes. As a cautious driver, I would suggest driving in the lanes toward the outside of the bridge when crossing the bridge. I also think that the bright yellow pylons embedded into the double yellow lines that I'd suggested as a barrier would do a lot to delineate a barrier and dissuade drivers from crossing over into oncoming traffic. It's not possible to prevent all accidents from happening, and sometimes, it is my humble opinion that we place way too much emphasis on overbearing safety. I'll never wear a bike helmet, for example. At some point, with all of the overbearing precautions, it just starts to feel like one is living inside a sterile hospital. Life happens, tragic accidents happen, que sera sera. If there is a barrier implemented, what's to prevent some drunk or texting driver to go careening into the barrier and then bounce back and crash into other cars on the bridge?

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