Questions and answers about the Washington Bridge investigation: Why are the feds looking?

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Federal investigators are investigating allegations of fraud in work done over many years on the now-closed northern portion of the Washington Bridge, they told Gov. Dan McKee’s administration on Friday.

That won’t help drivers stuck in traffic on Interstate 195, but it may shed some light on how a bridge that had been booked for repairs for nearly a decade could have fallen into such disrepair that it had to be closed suddenly on Dec. 11.

What documents did federal investigators request?

In the investigation’s civil request for records, the U.S. Department of Justice’s District of Rhode Island is seeking records related to the bridges dating back to Jan. 1, 2015, days before Gina Raimondo was sworn in as governor.

Raimondo, now U.S. Secretary of Commerce, appointed Peter Alviti Jr. as the current director of the Rhode Island Department of Transportation, who launched a sweeping overhaul of the agency and bridge repairs they called RhodeWorks.

A photo from the Washington Bridge inspection report dated December 8 shows a cut tension bar in Pier 7, one of the main supports of the main span.

A photo from the Washington Bridge inspection report dated December 8 shows a cut tension bar in Pier 7, one of the main supports of the main span.

One of the structurally deficient bridges identified at the time for repair was the North Washington Bridge span, which carried I-195 west over the Seekonk River.

The DOJ’s request letter specifically seeks materials — including text, videos, emails, photos and notes — that depict problem areas at the main support piers, known as Piers 6 and 7.

Investigators want materials related to “beam ties” or tension rods as well as “beam seats.”

Tension rods stabilize the cantilever beams holding the main span, and when several of them break, Inspectors noticed a “bounce,” which led to the closure.

more: All options, including a complete rebuild, are on the table for the Washington Bridge, Alviti says in the update

Investigators requested all photographs and notes of what was done on the bar benches, as well as all invoices and progress reports from the contractors.

The investigation “relates to the allegation that false claims for payment for services and/or false statements in support of such payments were submitted to the United States government,” the request letter said.

As with most major highway projects, the federal government is paying approximately 80% of the cost of work on the Washington Bridge.

Who are the potential targets of the investigation?

The investigation could target any of several contractors hired by the Rhode Island Department of Transportation to build new bridge lanes and ramps, repair sections or inspect the bridge to make sure everything is going as planned.

Anyone who helped a contractor file a false claim could also be targeted.

The Ministry of Transport has until February 26 to deliver the materials.

Have the feds brought similar cases in RI?

Yes.

In 2022, Dennis Ferreira, a former employee of Barletta Heavy Division, one of the prime contractors on the current Washington Bridge project, called for false reports about the fill used on the Route 6-10 Connector project in Providence.

In 2017, Cardi Corporation has agreed to pay a $500,000 fine to settle allegations that it installed a defective fence on the I-Way. The I-195 bridge over the Providence River, about a mile west of the Washington Bridge.

Who is leading the investigation?

Assistant U.S. Attorney Bethany Wong.

Wong was one of two attorneys who prosecuted the 6-10 Ferreira conductor case.

What work has been done on the bridge?

Although the structurally deficient Washington Bridge span was at the top of RhodeWorks’ project list in 2015, it’s not clear whether repairs to the troublesome beam benches and tension bars were planned.

A view from under the Washington Bridge near Valley Street in East Providence in mid-December.

A view from under the Washington Bridge near Valley Street in East Providence in mid-December.

The extension support was part of a larger project that includes new exit and entrance ramps on both sides of the river, as well as an additional westbound travel lane.

Cardi was the first contractor hired to work on the bridge, but the project was temporarily halted after a temporary traffic pattern was used to accommodate the work It caused massive backups in Massachusetts.

When the Department of Transportation rebid the project, Cardi won again, but Barletta sued. claiming that Cardi unfairly used information from her previous work to undermine other presenters.

more: The St. Mary’s and Washington Bridge closures will get a closer look from lawmakers in the coming weeks

The Federal Highway Administration refused to sign a contract for Cardi and, When the Department of Transportation came out to bid again, Barletta won.

October 2021 press release When work resumed under the $78 million contract for the Barletta joint venture, he said the project “will address structural deficiencies on the western portion of the Washington Bridge.”

An update from the Department of Transportation in March said workers were continuing “repairs to the bridge deck and concrete infrastructure.”

Since the closure, Alviti said repairs to sections of the bridge at risk of collapse were not part of Cardi or Barletta’s contracts.

Westbound traffic on I-195 is backed up as it prepares to merge into temporary detour lanes on the east side of the Washington Bridge.

Westbound traffic on I-195 is backed up as it prepares to merge into temporary detour lanes on the east side of the Washington Bridge.

Who is working on the Washington Bridge now?

  • AECOM is the consultant who acts as the Department of Transport’s “Owner’s Representative”. The company also implemented A July inspection gave the range a clean bill of health.

  • Barletta and Aetna Bridge Company are leading a joint venture building the bridge.

  • Vanasse Hangen Brustlin Inc. She is the design consultant for the joint venture. The engineer who first discovered problems in the area worked for VHB.

  • VN engineers perform a “modeling analysis” of the bridge.

  • Michael Baker International was hired by DOT to conduct an “in-depth inspection” of the bridge.

  • BDI is a subcontractor to Michael Baker for “traffic control” on the bridge.

  • WJE is a subcontractor to Michael Baker who is conducting a “forensic analysis” of what happened.

  • Consor is a subcontractor for Michael Baker that performs underwater inspections.

This article originally appeared in Providence Magazine: Federal investigation into Washington Bridge: What you need to know

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