Who said what about the bike path bridges?

DOT director says he never committed to replacing bridges

By Josh Bickford
Posted 9/15/21

Did the DOT director tell Barrington officials that the state would replace the East Bay Bike Path bridges?

Barrington Town Manager Jim Cunha and Town Council Vice President Rob Humm say …

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Who said what about the bike path bridges?

DOT director says he never committed to replacing bridges

Posted

Did the DOT director tell Barrington officials that the state would replace the East Bay Bike Path bridges?

Barrington Town Manager Jim Cunha and Town Council Vice President Rob Humm say yes. 

DOT officials say no.

On Thursday, Sept. 9, Lisbeth Pettengill, the communications director for the Rhode Island Department of Transportation, said DOT Director Peter Alviti never told Barrington officials that the state was going to replace the bridges. 

Ms. Pettengill said there were four DOT employees who attended the virtual meeting where the bridges were discussed, “and none of us heard that,” Ms. Pettengill said. 

Later on Thursday, Mr. Cunha challenged that statement. He said Mr. Alviti had “absolutely” committed to replacing the bike path bridges.

“I hold to what I said. I have no doubt in what I heard,” Mr. Cunha said. 

The apparent confusion stems from a virtual meeting held on Aug. 22, where Mr. Alviti discussed the East Bay Bike Path bridges with Barrington officials. The two spans — one crossing the Barrington River and the other crossing the Warren River — have been closed since 2019 when the DOT determined that the bridges were unsafe for bicyclists and pedestrians. State officials created a detour, directing people onto the Barrington and Warren river vehicle bridges. 

Ms. Pettengill said Mr. Alviti addressed the bike path bridges during the Aug. 22 meeting, and only confirmed that the state would put out an RFP (request for proposals) asking for innovative ways to replace the bike path bridges. 

Ms. Pettengill said the bridge replacements still hinge on the state receiving a viable bid — she said the bid needs to provide an acceptable engineering solution and a financial solution. Ms. Pettengill said the bids need to come in close to $10 million.

But while the state has committed to putting out the RFP, it did not commit to replacing the bridges, Ms. Pettengill said. The communications director said Mr. Alviti was surprised with the comments made by Mr. Cunha and Mr. Humm. 

“I think he is very frustrated,” she said. 

Ms. Pettengill added that the RIDOT is working very hard to balance all the road and bridge infrastructure needs across the state. 

“It’s not that we don’t care (about the bike path bridges),” she said. “It just takes a little longer… we’re working on it.”

Ms. Pettengill provided the DOT’s RhodeWorks Summary for construction projects from 2016 to 2021. The summary lists 233 total projects; 214 bids awarded; 84 total bridge projects; 335 total bridges; and a total budget of more than $2.5 billion over the six-year period.

Ms. Pettengill said the DOT has committed $10 million in its TIP (Transportation Improvement Program) to the East Bay Bike Path bridges. A consultant hired by the state has estimated that replacing the bridges will cost closer to $25 million, although some recent work yielded a proposal to replace the bridges for approximately $14 million. Ms. Pettengill cautioned that the proposal included an additional $12 million for National Grid to move the utilities at the bridge. She said state officials would need the Grid to reduce that cost. 

The DOT is expected to release an RFP before the end of the year for a “Design-Build Contract.” Officials said the agency is scheduled to receive the proposals in early spring for review and selection.

Meeting with legislators

Rep. Jason Knight (D-Dist. 67, Barrington and Warren) said local legislators met recently with the DOT director to discuss the bike path bridges. 

Rep. Knight said the DOT seems to understand just how important these bridges are to the community and those who the path. He also asked if it would be possible to move money from a different DOT job to the bike path bridges project. The answer was no. 

Rep. Knight said he wishes the state was farther along in the process, and added that during the meeting, DOT officials made a tremendous effort to say that they were not guaranteeing the replacement of the bike path bridges.

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