Bristol to replace boat ramp, make other big improvements at Independence Park

By Ethan Hartley
Posted 5/22/24

A new boat ramp, parking lot, and site enhancements are all part of two major Independence Park projects, hopefully to start this fall and be complete by the spring of 2025.

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Bristol to replace boat ramp, make other big improvements at Independence Park


The scenic entry point to downtown Bristol will hopefully look a lot more scenic come next spring, as the Town of Bristol is nearly set to solicit bids for two projects that will rejuvenate the parking lot, boat ramp, and the connection between the end of the bike path at the start of Independence Park.

Town Administrator Steve Contente explained on Monday morning that what might appear to passersby as one project when they kick off is actually two separate projects that are being combined into one bid package and anticipated to begin construction either in September or October, progress throughout the winter, and hopefully finish up by the time the weather gets nice again in the spring of 2025.

A new and improved boat ramp
Estimates weren’t 100% certain, but Contente said to the best of his knowledge the current boat ramp at Independence Park was installed around 1990; certainly under the Halsey Herreshoff administration.

Harbormaster Gregg Marsili explained that over time, the end of the boat ramp has degraded and only gotten worse as boats unload and load into the water, especially when they power up to get back onto a trailer. As a result, there’s quite a large drop-off that has formed, which only exacerbates the issue.

The ramp would be completely rebuilt with pre-cast concrete slabs, and combined with the installation of a new, 10x120-foot floating timber dock that will allow for much easier unloading of boats. “You won’t need a friend to help you unload and tie off a boat anymore,” Marsili said.

The project is being locally funded, and Contente said estimates at the moment were in the $500,000 range. He said as of Monday they were still waiting to receive word back on their permit application from the Coastal Resources Management Council to go out to bid on the project.

Marsili said that since the construction will be happening at the tail end of summer at the earliest (more likely early autumn), and going through the winter, it won’t likely have much impact to boaters. But he said that the State Street and Annawamscutt ramps would remain viable alternatives while work was being done.

A new parking lot, with stormwater benefits
The second part of the symbiotic project is a total reconstruction of the surrounding parking lot, which has also seen better days, and still shows remnants of its time when it used to be part of a railroad yard, Contente said.

According to Principal Planner Ed Tanner, the project will do more than just repave the parking lot.

“Everything is going to pitch back. There’s some big gullies and everything is just sheet flowing right into the harbor now. So whatever drips off all the cars and boats just washes right in,” he said. “The water coming off the parking lot will go into some stormwater retention basins, similar to rain gardens, and the water will have a little sediment area that we can clean out and then it’ll filter into the ground and there will also be some plants in there to keep anything from washing into the harbor.”

With the improvements, stormwater will not only be better treated, it will be funneled into existing drain infrastructure so that the parking lot doesn’t face erosion going forward.

Currently a bit of a free-for-all without any visible striping, the lot will be re-striped, with a no parking area immediately behind the boat ramp to provide enough space for trailers to swing in and reverse to the water.

And the fun doesn’t stop there, because the project will also include some improvements to give some cohesion to the entrance of the parking lot and the end of the East Bay Bike Path which, as it exists, has no real flow or guidance for cyclists on where to go next.

“Right now it runs down on an angle and it’s an awkward intersection. You don’t have a straight shot, so it’s going to have a proper curved entrance, and then we’ll connect it to the bike path,” Tanner said. “Where the bike path ends now, there’s that monument, that little sign, there’s going to be a path that brings it along with grass and a little sign…It will be a cleaner and safer and, I think, a nicer looking entrance way.”

This project is being funded partially by a $461,500 resiliency grant from the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank. The $152,875 match expected from Bristol would come from a low-interest bond, Contente said. It has the same anticipated start and completion date as the boat ramp portion, since the two projects are being bid as one package. This one has already received its permit from CRMC.

Contente said the project was an example of targeting multiple areas important to Bristolians within one project scope.

“This fits with our administration’s goal of improving the environment, increasing outdoor recreation and access to the water, and also maintaining our assets and property,” Contente said, adding that improvements to the State Street dock would be next in line for improvements. “We like to fix stuff.”

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