Editorial: DOT needs to rebuild bike path bridges

Posted 4/29/21

One hundred and sixty-six years ago, heavy trains loaded with industrial cargo began rumbling along railroad tracks from Bristol to Providence. They carried the products of enormous factories from an …

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Editorial: DOT needs to rebuild bike path bridges

Posted

One hundred and sixty-six years ago, heavy trains loaded with industrial cargo began rumbling along railroad tracks from Bristol to Providence. They carried the products of enormous factories from an industrial waterfront town to the shipping and distribution centers of Rhode Island’s capital city.

The rail line endured for a century, with tracks running alongside the waterfronts and homes of Bristol, Warren, Barrington and East Providence, passing across narrow bridges spanning both the Palmer and Barrington rivers. They fell silent in the latter half of the 20th century.

Thirty years ago, the Rhode Island Department of Transportation overcame a torrent of opposition and NIMBY protests to convert the remnants of that old rail line into the East Bay Bike Path. Cyclists and pedestrians were granted safe travel across those narrow bridges and the full 14-mile line, and what was once considered a threat to safety eventually became one of the great selling points of this region.

Today, proximity to the beautiful, majestic East Bay Bike Path is heralded in real estate listings and travel brochures both here and afar. DOT deserves credit for creating and maintaining one of the region’s great assets.

Yet if engineers working with mid-19th-century technology could build bridges strong enough to carry trainloads of cargo for 100 years, should it really take years for DOT to figure out how to carry a few cyclists or joggers at any give time across those same waterways?

Those two, rotting bridges have been closed for two years now, with no timeline or plan for their repair or reconstruction. While they remain blocked, thousands of travelers are forced across the neighboring motor vehicle bridges, which were never designed to accommodate bikes, scooters, joggers or strollers. The risks are high every day, especially on those school days when hundreds of young Barrington children bike from one side of town to the other.

If rebuilding those bridges were a priority, DOT could figure this out mighty quick. They’ve shown that ability before, including with little, annoying bridges. After spending a year rebuffing everyone who complained about a plan to close the tiny Silver Creek Bridge at the gateway to downtown Bristol to all traffic for months, DOT suddenly unveiled a plan to keep one lane of travel open at all times, and it finished the project on time and under budget.

To restore quality of life to this region — and avert a bike path tragedy — DOT should find a way to let history repeat itself in the East Bay.

2021 by East Bay Newspapers

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Meet our staff
Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.