Feds investigating possible fraud in partial closure of Rhode Island bridge

The recent and unexpected closure of westbound lanes on the Washington Bridge connecting East Providence and Providence, R.I., has triggered a federal investigation into possible fraud. Photo by GoBlue9/Wikimedia Commons

Jan. 27 (UPI) -- Investigators for the Office of the Inspector General and the Department of Justice are looking into the recent partial closure of the Washington Bridge in Rhode Island months after it was reopened following repairs.

Federal officials on Friday notified the Rhode Island Department of Transportation that they are looking into the partial closure of the Interstate 195 bridge on Dec. 11 due to the failure of some of its original structural parts, according to documents obtained by WJAR-TV.

The investigation is to determine if there is evidence of false claims filed with the federal government following work completed on the bridge in July.

"The investigation concerns the allegation that false claims for payment for services and/or false statements in support of such payments have been submitted to the U.S. government," the Rhode Island U.S. Attorney's office said in a document sent to Rhode Island Gov. Dan McKee.

"These payments relate to claims submitted involving the construction, inspection, and/or repair of the I-195 Washington Bridge connecting Providence and East Providence, Rhode Island," the U.S. Attorney's letter said.

A spokesperson for McKee told the Providence Journal that state officials are cooperating with the federal investigation, which will slow the reopening of the Washington Bridge lanes. The bridge's sudden closure on Dec. 11 makes it difficult for many workers to commute to their jobs.

Federal investigators want all information and correspondence regarding the Washington Bridge inspections, maintenance and repairs dating back to 2015.

The latest bridge closure was to last for three months, but the investigation will delay the reopening by several more months.