The Blame Game

RI D.O.T. points finger at contractor in Barrignton Bridge debaucle.
Contractor says delays, cost overages cuased by D.O.T.’s lack of initiative

For years, motorists in the East Bay wondered if the new Barrington Bridge would ever be finished.
After all, it was years behind schedule and more than double the original $10 million cost. In 2004, work had inexplicably ground to a halt. And stayed that way for two and a half years.
Meanwhile, Senator David Bates of Barrington left status meetings at the state Department of Transportation with little doubt that Shire Corporation, the contractor for the project, was at fault. After all the D.O.T. was telling him so.
It turns out the D.O.T. brass wasn’t giving Sen. Bates, or the general public, the whole story. A confidential report that state officials never expected to be released, became public in November as part of a lawsuit Shire filed two years ago against the state — not only about issues with the Barrington Bridge, but what it claims is a an ongoing D.O.T. vendetta against Shire and a concerted effort to freeze the company out of future projects.
Shire President Thomas Gammino, in his first extended interview, tells the Hummel Report that Shire has been blacklisted by the D.O.T. since the previously confidential report put blame for the Barrington Bridge situation squarely in D.O.T.’s lap. The report was prepared by a lawyer for the Department of Administration called in to referee back in 2006.
“When people called us we tried to explain what the situation was,” Gammino said. “I think what people don’t understand is when a contactor bids a job, he’s given a set of plans, and you bid according to those plans.”
Shire told the D.O.T. in 2004 it couldn’t build the bridge according to the designs it received from the state. But the D.O.T. didn’t respond — for months. And, by failing to figure out how to deal with those errors, the D.O.T. was responsible for a two-and-a-half year delay, a delay that officials at the time blamed publicly on Shire when they knew differently.
“For us to say as a contractor, or any contractor to say: ‘Oh it’s not our fault,’ meanwhile the state is saying it is your fault. People are going to believe the state,” Gammino said, adding that Shire just couldn’t build the bridge according to the plans it was given by D.OT.
The Department of Administration agreed, saying the state would likely lose any lawsuit brought by Shire concerning the Barrington Bridge situation. As a result, it recommended the state’s taxpayers give Shire an extra $5.3 million to settle the dispute. Shire wanted $13 million.
“Instead of sitting down with Shire and working with them, they put their head in the sand and took the position, it was not their fault, it was Shire’s,” said Michael Kelly, who represents Shire in a lawsuit the company filed against the state in 2009. He says the Barrington Bridge is the tip of the iceberg.
After the Barrington settlement, Kelly said several higher-ups in the department went on the warpath, moving to have Shire suspended from the Federal Highway Administration list of contractors. Shire was taken off, then eventually reinstated after an investigation by the feds found removal was unwarranted — despite D.O.T.’s pleadings otherwise.
Kelly said several members of the D.O.T., some of which are still there, went on a vendetta to seek retribution against Shire. The D.O.T. declined our request for an on-camera interview but did issue a statement that says because the settlement agreement on the Barrington Bridge included no admission of liability or wrongdoing, no one at D.O.T. has been disciplined.
The D.O.T. also said it is vigorously defending against in court Shire’s claims — outlined in our interview with Gammino and Kelly — and that Shire has received work from the state since 2006. The department also said projects are competitively bid, public and not subject to influence by any individual.
Kelly also dropped this bombshell for motorists in the East Bay who suffered through years of traffic delays: he and Gammino said the bridge could have been completed a year-and-a-half before it was in 2009 for several hundred thousand dollars, but because of bad blood the D.O.T. refused to accelerate the project.
“I’ve been practicing for 33 years in the construction area and I’ve been in involved with D.O.T. for 33 years,” Kelly said. “I can’t recall who hadn’t committed a criminal offense ever being held accountable by any director in the past. To this day they have not pursued the approximate $9 million it cost the taxpayers to have the bridge basically redesigned and rebuilt as a result of those design plans.”
Thomas Gammino said simply: there needs to be a shakeup at D.O.T.
“At some point they need to make changes, because the state is suffering as a whole, the contractors are suffering, and the taxpayers are suffering,” Gammino said.
The Hummel Report is a 501 3C non-profit organization. If you have a story idea or want make a donation to the Hummel Report, go to