Padanaram bridge faces heat, electrical issues in opening week

Jun 19, 2018

While motorists are adjusting to the reopened Padanaram causeway, another familiar site is greeting drivers: bridge malfunctions.

Since opening to traffic on June 11, the bridge which links Padanaram Village to Smith Neck and southern Dartmouth faced two major issues related to its electrical and expansion systems, according to Department of Public Works Director David Hickox.

Shortly after opening, an electrical relay failure left the bridge inoperable for about an hour. Crews were able to quickly fix the problem, Hickox said.

The second issue left the bridge stuck midway for several hours on June 17. Faced with hot temperatures well into the mid-80s, the heat was enough to expand the bridge structure, preventing it from closing properly from about 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.

It’s a problem which has plagued the bridge for years, Hickox said, and is similar to issues observed on the New Bedford-Fairhaven Bridge. Last year the issue only happened several times, and with no traffic it might have only been noticed by boaters.

Although the bridge includes expansion joints, which are designed to compensate for heat-related expansion, if it is hot enough it is not enough to accommodate the change. Lower temperatures or a request for the fire department to hose down the bridge are usually needed to resume operation.

Hickox said DPW crews are working to fix the problem. Officials identified portions of the bridge prone to expansion, and will be making improvements to better accommodate temperature-related expansion.

“It’s an old bridge and it’s very temperamental,” Hickox said. “It’s an ongoing maintenance issue for the town.”

The recently completed $8.2 million rehabilitation project which left the road closed for two years mainly focused on the causeway, not the bridge.