CRMC Critical of RIDOT’s Plan to Replace East Bay Bike Path Bridges
October 25, 2023
PROVIDENCE — Plans to replace a pair of bridges along the East Bay Bike Path are in danger of getting washed out.
Last year the Rhode Island Department of Transportation announced it finally found the money to replace two bike path bridges that cross the Barrington and Palmer rivers near Route 114 in Barrington. The wooden deck bridges — originally built in 1900 for use by the Providence, Warren, and Bristol Railroad and repurposed 90 years later for the bike path — were closed in late 2019. At the time, RIDOT officials declared both bridges “structurally deficient” and in an advanced state of deterioration.
But the $17 million plan to replace the bridges hit a snag Tuesday, when the Coastal Resources Management Council, which has jurisdiction over construction in tidal waters, voted to delay approval of the application to a future meeting, citing a lack of information on the project from RIDOT.
Council members were critical of RIDOT’s submitted materials and by the answers given by the agency officials present, who declined to give the council a presentation of the project.
“DOT [needs] to address those concerns in a presentation to us, because frankly myself and my fellow council members still have questions,” CRMC chair Raymond Coia said.
But even before going into the Oct. 24 meeting, CRMC staff said they had unresolved questions related to the construction of the bridge, and told the council in the report that RIDOT hadn’t provided additional clarification to staff’s questions.
As proposed, the new bridges would take up a similar footprint to the original bike path bridges, but would only be 14 feet wide, noticeably slimmer than the original bridges, with no elevated sidewalks and only a 2-foot-wide corridor for pedestrians on the side of the path. RIDOT indicated the width was chosen to avoid disturbing utility connections.
In its report to the council, CRMC staff expressed concern that the 2-foot-wide corridor for pedestrians would curtail recreational fishing on the bridges, a long-standing recreational use on the original bike path bridges. Staff also noted that RIDOT officials in their original submission said fishing would be prohibited on the new bridges, but later changed the statement without changing the overall design.
At the recent meeting, RIDOT project manager Lori Fisette assured council members the department “has not approved or accepted the final design for the bridges.”
Council member Kevin Flynn told RIDOT officials the 2-foot-wide corridor for pedestrians would not be enough room for anglers and bicyclists to share without someone getting hurt.
“Frankly, I think your design is setting up conflicts,” Flynn said. “It’s a recipe for conflicts.”
RIDOT’s original plan for the bridges was to repair them as is, budgeting $10 million for the project, but project estimates doubled when the department realized the extent of their disrepair. RIDOT officials on Tuesday ball-parked the project cost to be $17 million, but The Providence Journal reported last year the total cost would be $24 million, with $14 million secured from federal funds. A RIDOT webpage dedicated to the project lists the cost at $24 million.
Width and cost aren’t the only problems connected to the bridge work. Some Barrington residents are alleging when RIDOT removed the pilings from the original bridge in the Barrington River, it changed the location and increased the speed of the river’s current, making it much more dangerous to use.
Jane and Stephen Mainella, who own Atlantic Marine, a marina sandwiched between the old bike path bridge on the Barrington River and the Route 114 bridge, told council members the change in the current had made it impossible for boats at their marina to enter and exit their slips.
With the old pilings gone, the current has moved from the center of the river toward its eastern banks, close to where Atlantic Marine is located, according to the Mainellas.
Without action from the council or RIDOT to adjust the current, Jane Mainella said they may have to close the marina.
“You are effectively taking our business away if you don’t do anything,” she said.
Fisette said RIDOT had an “ongoing dialogue” with the Mainellas, but declined to meet with them while the bridge permits were pending before CRMC.
Barrington resident Owen O’Rourke told the council the new current of the river would make it dangerous for anyone on the banks of the river, and impossible for any small boat to go upriver next year during the summer season. He noted the pilings were removed after the end of the summer boating season, and that the current has not been seen yet as a big problem.
“I have a nineteen-and-a-half-foot boat,” O’Rourke said, “and I have to give it quite a bit of gas to get back up the river. Smaller boats won’t make it back up the river at all.”
CRMC is expected to consider the East Bay Bike Path bridges project again later this year.
Editor’s note: This story was updated Oct. 26.
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