BURRILLVILLE – Five months after implementing a short detour to direct northbound travelers on Route 102 around a bridge closed for repairs, Burrillville police say that drivers are not following the posted alternate route.
And as police work with state traffic officials on additional efforts to avoid a tragedy such as a head-on collision, they say they are struggling to understand why.
The detour was put in place in April to allow the Rhode Island Department of Transportation to reinforce Mohegan Bridge, a steel structure built in 1966, which carries Broncos Highway over the Branch River. The $10,400,000 project will replace the structurally deficient bridge on Route 102 as part of RIDOT’s capital program.
Located just before Western Hill Auto for those traveling north, the 226-foot bridge will see extensive work, with repairs to continue over two construction seasons.
Those traveling from Burrillville into neighboring North Smithfield are directed via signage to two potential alternate routes: at East Avenue and at the Glendale Bypass.
But according to Burrillville Police Col. Stephen Lynch, drivers are often either not seeing, or are ignoring the signs, leading to a dangerous situation as many travel to the actual construction site, or even the southbound lane into potential oncoming traffic.
“We’ve been amazed at all the motorists that come up to that site,” Lynch told NRI NOW this week.
Lynch has posted a 24 hour detail by the final opportunity to take a posted detour, and has worked with RIDOT to install additional signage. A recent drive along the northbound route revealed more than 15 signs, including five electronic markings.
“The reason for us being there is to prevent a tragic accident,” Lynch said. “That’s our primary reason: to stop head on collisions.”
According to the colonel, there have already been some uncomfortably close calls. In addition to driving right through barricades and up to the construction site, drivers have proceeded into the southbound lane, or even followed the breakdown lane in attempts to get over the bridge. The alternate route, meanwhile, would take travelers along a parallel road one mile in the same direction.
“Why they’re doing it is beyond us,” Lynch said. “It has been frustrating with the number of people who still come to that site.”
In one recent incident, a driver traveling in the wrong lane late at night was found to be intoxicated – and in possession of a firearm.
The problem, Lynch noted, is that police have not totally closed the road, opting instead to allow access to the Burrillville Middle School and surrounding neighborhood for those traveling north. A sign stating “local traffic only,” he said, will likely have to come down, as drivers seem unable to discern what’s considered “local.”
“We’ve looked at this a lot of ways with DOT,” Lynch said. “You have to leave access to the middle school and for residents who live there.”
Another enemy, he notes, is GPS.
“If this construction isn’t registering, than they’re coming right up to the site,” Lynch said.
The chief says his department has issued a handful of citations to the most blatant violators of traffic laws: those who pull a u-turn in the middle of the highway to double back, drive right into construction, or run the red light posted at the school to turn around.
“The motorist really has to distinguish themselves in order to earn a citation,” he said.
But Lynch says that’s not the focus of his police detail, and he’d prefer to be able to remove the officer entirely. While RIDOT pays salary for the detail, staffing the spot 24/7 can be tough for a small department.
“It strains resources, for sure,” he said, noting that neighboring departments, including North Smithfield, Glocester, state police and even Smithfield have helped with the detail when more officers are needed.
“Their focus is to keep that area safe,” he said.
The detours are expected to be posted along the busy stretch of roadway through December of 2022, moving to the southbound lane at some point later in the project. And the chief says he will continue to work with RIDOT officials to find solutions that protect drivers.
“I think they share in our bewilderment,” he said.