Cost of Washington Bridge rebuild, closure now estimated at $455 million

Cost of Washington Bridge rebuild, closure now estimated at $455 million

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Gov. Dan McKee’s administration announced Monday that he will seek a big federal grant to help pay for reconstruction of the failed westbound Washington Bridge, after releasing new estimates that show the project’s cost has ballooned.


McKee’s office said consultants hired by the R.I. Department of Transportation believe it will cost $40 million to demolish the existing westbound bridge and $368 million to design and rebuild a new one. An initial estimate released in March — which officials at the time cautioned was preliminary — had put the tab at $250 million to $300 million.

The revised cost estimate for the bridge project first surfaced Thursday, when U.S. Sen. Jack Reed cited a higher price tag for the new bridge while questioning Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg at a hearing on Capitol Hill. In response to questions from 12 News, Reed’s office confirmed Saturday the higher estimate had been supplied by RIDOT.

Reed warned Buttigieg that the cost of replacing the westbound bridge was “way beyond the capacity” of the state to fund through normal budget allocations.

Apart from demolition and reconstruction costs, state officials are also now estimating $46 million in emergency expenses tied to the bridge, which has been shuttered since December after an engineer discovered a serious structural failure.

Those expenses include costs of stabilizing the old bridge in preparation for demolition, as well as funding for municipal costs related to the bridge’s closure.

State officials said GM2 and VN Engineers, the new consultants hired by RIDOT to oversee the bridge work on the agency’s behalf, had helped RIDOT revise the numbers “to include a change of scope, contingency dollars and construction incentives.” The plan includes new on- and off-ramp work, along with making the bridge slightly wider.

“They are familiar with the best practices on how these projects are done throughout the country,” RIDOT Chief Operating Office Loren Doyle said.

McKee is offering companies that bid for the bridge work up to $10 million in incentives if they complete portions of the project earlier than the August 2026 target date.

The centerpiece of the financing strategy that McKee rolled out on Monday is a planned application for a $221 million federal “Mega Grant,” which is the U.S. Department of Transportation’s nickname for the National Infrastructure Project Assistance program.

The program offers funding for large transportation projects that are difficult to fully fund. Massachusetts won a $372 million Mega Grant last December for the Cape Cod bridges.

State officials said they hope to know by October whether they will get the grant.

Separately, McKee on Monday sent lawmakers a proposed amendment to his budget bill that would authorize a state GARVEE bond of up to $334.6 million to provide funding for the bridge. GARVEE is an acronym for “Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicles,” and it’s a method used by states to borrow against future streams of federal highway funding.

“It is important to note the state would need to borrow considerably less than the full $334.6 million if it were awarded the Mega Grant,” McKee’s aides said in a statement.

R.I. Office of Management and Budget Director Brian Daniels said there is some GARVEE debt coming off the books soon, giving the state more borrowing capacity.

The governor is calling the overall funding approach for the bridge a “belt-and-suspenders strategy.” In addition to the federal grant and the GARVEE bond, he is proposing to use $37 million in repurposed federal funding from previous grants for the Washington Bridge; $40 million from borrowing against the state’s gas tax; $20 million from federal COVID relief money; and $23.6 million in “other sources if additional dollars are needed.”

“As previously noted, estimates will change subject to the actual cost proposals submitted by the selected design-build teams,” McKee’s aides said. “The contract bid price will then determine the final project costs.”

The state is currently accepting bids from companies interested in doing the demolition and rebuild projects. They expect to award those contracts by the end of July.

Michael DiBiase, CEO of the business-backed Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council think tank, said he “wasn’t overly surprised” by the revised cost estimate for the bridge, “although it’s a very big number.”

“I think the bigger issue is the impact on the transportation programs — the other road and bridge projects that are planned — because we only get so much federal money, and this is going to take up a fair amount of money,” DiBiase told 12 News.

He said the situation reinforced the need for Rhode Island leaders to come up with a long-term plan for sustainable transportation financing, particularly with gas tax revenue on the decline and truck tolls halted by a legal challenge.

Eli Sherman ( is a Target 12 investigative reporter for 12 News. Connect with him on Twitter and on Facebook.

Ted Nesi ( is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Twitter, Threads and Facebook.

Kayla Fish contributed to this report.