Barrington official decries proposed bike path detour plan

Manager: ‘only safe solution is replacement of bridges’

By Josh Bickford
Posted 4/30/21

Barrington Town Manager Jim Cunha does not support the new detour proposed for the East Bay Bike Path bridges. 

He said that while the proposed changes might be better than the current …

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Barrington official decries proposed bike path detour plan

Manager: ‘only safe solution is replacement of bridges’


Barrington Town Manager Jim Cunha does not support the new detour proposed for the East Bay Bike Path bridges. 

He said that while the proposed changes might be better than the current detour, the state should instead be focused on replacing the old bridges as soon as possible.

“I don’t think there is a safe detour,” he said. “The only safe solution is the replacement of bridges.”

Mr. Cunha has been pushing the state to prioritize the construction of two new bike path bridges — one spanning the Barrington River, and the other across the Warren River. 

He said the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists, including hundreds of children who ride their bikes to school each day, depends on those bridges. 

But despite his hard push, it appears the state has a different plan for the bridges.

Mr. Cunha learned recently that officials from the Rhode Island Department of Transportation had created a new detour plan, which includes widening the sidewalk area on the Barrington and Warren river bridges (Route 114 vehicle bridges), making New Meadow Road one-way toward the southern end of the road, and placing temporary barriers between passing cars and people using the bike path.

Mr. Cunha said officials from the DOT are underestimating the impact the detour will have on the community.

“They don’t prioritize the East Bay,” Mr. Cunha said of the DOT. 

“I think they have projects they consider higher priorities. I think there are political influences on which projects are prioritized.”

The DOT closed the two East Bay Bike Path bridges in 2019, and initially said the project would be put out to bid in the spring of 2021. The state also dedicated between $10 million and $15 million, but more recently officials allegedly discovered the price had increased to $25 million. 

During a recent radio interview, DOT Director Peter Alviti said the state was now considering alternatives. 

“…we don’t want to waste $25 million on something we may not want to do,” he said during the earlier interview. “We’re looking into all the alternatives, which include rebuilding the bridges, but also include other designs we may be able to employ to reduce the cost of those. It’s going to take some time. We can’t risk people being hurt.

“We are working actively on finding a solution.”

Mr. Alviti said a proper solution should have been offered about 15 years ago when the state was replacing the vehicle bridges on Route 114. He said officials could have included a dedicated bike lane on the new vehicle bridges. 

The state’s newly-proposed detour plan includes just that — the Barrington Times obtained a copy of the presentation that shows what DOT officials plan to share with the public during an upcoming forum. 

Part of the detour plan calls for the two vehicle traffic lanes on the Warren and Barrington bridges to be narrowed, making room for a wider pedestrian lane — about 8 feet wide — to the north side of the bridges.

The presentation shows pedestrian lanes of the same size for the Blackstone Bikeway bridges in Cumberland and Lincoln. 

The proposed DOT detour also calls for the southern end of New Meadow Road — from the bike path intersection to County Road — to be made one-way, with only southbound vehicle traffic allowed. Sowams Road would still be open to two-way traffic.

DOT officials are recommending that vehicle traffic head north on Sowams Road, then use Kent Street to cross over to New Meadow Road. Mr. Cunha said the detour will likely result in some motorists using other roads as cross-overs to New Meadow, such as Crossways and Linden Road. 

“I said that to the DOT and they don’t disagree,” Mr. Cunha said. 

Public push-back

Mr. Cunha said he learned of the proposed detour about two weeks ago and reached out to state officials, requesting that they hold a public forum. He believes the public’s voice should be heard.

Mr. Cunha said he has exhausted every official avenue he knows to press the DOT to focus its work on replacing the bike path bridges. He said the public’s input could make the difference, and he hopes it will lead state officials to prioritize the replacement of the bike path bridges.

“They have carbon fiber bridges — you can just drop something in there that doesn’t require any structural support underneath,” he said. “I think the DOT is prioritizing by politics and by the size of the community.

“God forbid a child gets hurt or killed because of this detour plan.”

Mr. Cunha said that while the bike path bridges are located in Barrington Warren, they impact people from all parts of the state, and beyond. 

“This is not going to be resolved until those bridges are replaced,” he said.

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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.