2017-03-09 / Front Page

Project Aims to Replace Bridge Ramps with Roundabouts

A long-discussed idea to redesign the ramps of the Newport Pell Bridge has become a reality.

“We no longer have to say ‘if’ the bridge ramps get realigned, we can say ‘when’ the bridge ramps get realigned,” said Newport Mayor Harry Winthrop at a press conference held at Goat Island’s Gurney’s Newport Resort and Marina on Monday, March 13.

The design will lighten traffic, reconnect Newport’s streets, and make 34 acres of land available for commercial development, officials claim. 

Preliminary plans include a park-and-ride for 200 cars and a rail shuttle service to transport visitors into downtown Newport. The design also includes a one-mile bike path between Burma Road and downtown Newport.

The $40 million project will be funded through RhodeWorks, the 10-year road-improvement funding program initiated by Governor Gina Raimondo.

“The reconfiguration of the Pell Bridge has been a long time coming. It’s been a long time in the making,” said Raimondo.

The majority of the money, up to 80 percent, will be provided through federal funds.

“A politician thinks about the next election, while a statesman thinks about the next generation,” said Winthrop, quoting James Freeman Clarke, in reference to the governor’s commitment to infrastructure and economic development. “That is sorely needed in this state.” 

The ramps were originally designed in the 1960s for a relocated Route 138 project, which never happened. 

Today, the existing ramp structure physically and economically divides Newport’s North End in half, say officials.

“We have the opportunity to see this innovation district explode,” said the governor. Newport officials are aiming to begin construction as early as this May on a $6.29 million project that will transform the former Sheffield Elementary School on Broadway into a business incubator, a project which Raimondo said will be a critical economic driver for Newport and the state. 

Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed, D-Newport, grew up and still lives in the North End.

“When I was a kid, we would walk over the ramps. No one recognized the North End was a special place,” said Pavia Weed.

Almost four years ago, Newport’s elementary schools consolidated in the newly built Pell School, located on Dexter Street in the North End. With the all the city’s children attending school in the area, the social barrier separating the North End from the rest of Newport was significantly pierced for the first time.   

“Suddenly, Newport starts coming together,” said Pavia Weed about the new school. “We are truly one Newport. It’s the coolest thing.” 

That realignment project will remove the physical barrier that divides the city, by demolishing the overpass ramp structures. Four new roundabouts will be constructed, providing a more fluid flow of traffic into Newport.

During the summer, more than 40,000 vehicles travel across the bridge each day. During popular events, traffic backups have been known to extend for a mile. 

Rep. Marvin Abney (D-Newport) said it is inspiring for Newport’s youngest residents to perceive growth.

“It is good for the kids to see progress. Something is being built, something is in the works,” said Abney.

This is a big day and it’s an exciting day,” said Raimondo.  “You, the people of Newport, should feel so proud of yourselves,” she said, adding it was a collaborative effort.

RIDOT Director Peter Alviti stressed the project’s two main goals are to make travel into Newport easy and safe, and to design an efficient ramp system with a small footprint, freeing up land for development.

 “This will dramatically change how both tourists and Rhode Islanders come into one of the most beautiful cities in the world,” said Alviti.

This year, RIDOT will begin the environmental analysis process and design. Construction is expected to begin in 2019 and be completed by 2022.

“Today, we are sharing our initial vision for this project. This is still in development and will be part of our design and planning for some months to come. But the principals will be the same,” Alviti said.

Although Rhode Island recently scored at the bottom of a national survey that studied highway infrastructure, bridges in Newport County are in relatively good shape.

RIDOT maintains most of the state’s bridges, but the Newport Pell Bridge falls under the authority of the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority (RITBA). The authority also maintains and operates the Mount Hope, Jamestown Verrazzano and Sakonnet River bridges.

As part of RITBA’s 10-Year Renewal and Replacement Plan, repair work is already underway on the Newport and Mount Hope spans. The total price tag of the plan over 10 years is $223 million, with an average annual investment of $22 million. Repairs to the Newport Pell and Mount Hope bridges make up 75 percent of the budget, and RITBA will use bonding authority as needed to manage the costs.

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