Council to DOT: Prioritize bike path bridge project

Bike Path bridge replacements not included in state’s schedule

By Josh Bickford
Posted 6/15/21

Pressure to rebuild, renovate and eventually reopen the East Bay Bike Path bridges continues to grow. 

Earlier this month, members of the Barrington Town Council approved a resolution calling …

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Council to DOT: Prioritize bike path bridge project

Bike Path bridge replacements not included in state’s schedule

Posted

Pressure to rebuild, renovate and eventually reopen the East Bay Bike Path bridges continues to grow. 

Earlier this month, members of the Barrington Town Council approved a resolution calling for the Rhode Island Department of Transportation to prioritize the replacement of the bike path bridges, which have been closed since 2019. 

That resolution surfaced just days after members of the RI General Assembly submitted a bill — H6372 — which calls for the appropriation of $20 million in the upcoming budget for the bridge replacement project. 

Late last week, DOT Spokesman Charles St. Martin offered a response from the state: “RIDOT is aware of the request from the legislators to rebuild the two bridges. We will be meeting with them soon to review the schedule for the safety enhancements as well as the possibility of additional federal funding as Congress debates a new transportation infrastructure bill and what that could mean for the project.”

In the meantime, pedestrians, bicyclists, anglers and others are being directed to follow the detours set up at the two bike path bridges. The detours call for people to use the sidewalks on the vehicle bridges when crossing the Barrington and Warren rivers.

The closed bike path bridges have garnered plenty of attention recently, as local officials have voiced safety concerns. 

During the recent council meeting, Barrington Town Manager Jim Cunha offered an update on some safety upgrades at the bike path bridge detours. He said traffic barriers have been installed and the DOT is installing new signs and road striping this month. By mid-summer, the state was expected to install flashing traffic beacons at the New Meadow Road intersection with the bike path, Mr. Cunha said.

The town manager also told council members that the department of transportation is expected to wide the vehicle bridge sidewalks and install new wooden boardwalks in the late summer and early fall, adding that the project’s schedule was dependent upon many different factors. 

Currently, the replacement of the East Bay Bike Path bridges is not scheduled in the State Transportation Improvement Program or STIP. 

Council discussion

During this month’s meeting, council member Rob Humm spoke about the resolution calling for the replacement of the bike path bridges. 

Initially, Mr. Humm wanted to add language to the resolution calling for the bridges to be reopened while the state works to replace them with new structures.

Council president Michael Carroll questioned that idea, stating that he believed the state closed the spans because they were unsafe. Mr. Cunha agreed, stating that there were problems with the bridges’ “overlays.” Mr. Humm said he was aware of the issues, but wanted to include the language in the resolution in case it was possible to retrofit the bridges with a new “overlay.”

Mr. Cunha countered, saying that he assumed the state would have explored that option first if it was an option.

Following the meeting, Mr. St. Martin from the DOT clarified some information about the bridges. He said the structures were closed because they were structurally deficient. 

“The deteriorated condition of the piles are the primary concern, many are rotted, missing or not connected to the bridge,” Mr. St. Martin said. “There are rotten components throughout the structure, both wood and steel. It cannot be repaired. Again, RIDOT closed the bridge because of these conditions and a concern for public safety.”

Photos of the bridge supplied by the DOT show rotted timbers and missing piles. The photos, taken during a 2019 inspection of the bridges, also show missing mortar on the stone supports and heavy rust on the metal beams.

Replacement estimates

DOT officials have said that the cost to replace the bike path bridges was recently estimated at $20-$25 million.

The estimate was created by DOT consultants, Commonwealth Engineers and Consultants; the state hired the consultant at the end of Jan. 2020. 

While the original estimate for replacing the bridges was $10 million, Commonwealth officials showed that an additional $4 million was needed — the cost included demolition of the existing structures, and new steel and reinforced concrete decks. 

A short time later, the estimate for utility work at the bridges came in at $12.5 million. 

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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.