Long-planned pedestrian bridge closer to reality

The first permanent structure to rise from Providence’s Interstate 195 lands almost certainly won’t be a new office or apartment building, but the long-planned pedestrian bridge crossing the Providence River.
After four years of planning, the 330-foot-long arc connecting new parks planned for both sides of the river is now nearly ready for bids from construction contractors.
City planners at a Sept. 29 meeting intended to release the latest renderings of the bridge and provide a new update on when the first steps across the span might be taken.
“We are at 30 percent design and on schedule for the project to be bid out by the end of this year,” Bonnie Nickerson, Providence director of long-range planning, said last week. “The details being worked out now are very technical, such as levels of lighting. The structural elements and design decisions have been made and those are solid.”
In the four years since Detroit-based inFORM Studio was chosen by then-Mayor David N. Cicilline as the winner of an international design competition, the original plan has been significantly slimmed down to reduce cost.
Long gone is the water-level, on-bridge café and the width of the bridge was reduced by an average of 20 percent. It’s now 33 feet on the west side and tapers to 16 feet on the east.
Even with the diet, the bridge is estimated to cost $6 million, according to the R.I. Department of Transportation, which is responsible for construction. That’s $2 million more than was set aside for the project during the Iway highway relocation project that made it possible.
That funding gap is being filled with proceeds from the I-195 Commission’s purchase of the land, itself paid for with bonds the commission intends to service with sales to developers.
Despite some changes, the core of the design remains intact: the bridge will rest on the old I-195 footings, be tapered from west to east, feature a timber walkway and terrace descending to a lower-level gathering area on its south side.
New design elements include midbridge lighting, plus benches and tables to provide seating options, Nickerson said.
Originally, the state was going to remove the old I-195 bridge footings at an estimated cost of $2 million. Keeping the footings for the pedestrian bridge allowed the state to keep that $2 million and put it toward bridge-construction costs. If all goes according to plan, RIDOT will put the bridge contract out to bid in December and choose a contractor to begin construction in the spring.
Building the bridge is expected to take about 18 months, meaning the structure should be ready to open in the late summer, early fall of 2016.
The bridge is the first phase of I-195 park construction, with the span linking parks totaling a combined 8 acres on both the east and west sides of the river.
Because the bridge landings on either side will shape the riverfront sections of the respective parks, they need to be built first.
Park construction itself should be faster than the bridge, allowing both the span and parks to open at about the same time.
Although park and bridge construction is being commissioned by RIDOT, when completed, the parks will be owned and maintained by the I-195 Commission while the bridge will be owned and maintained by the city.
Maintenance of both is not an insignificant task considering the cost of snow removal.
Nickerson said the city was exploring a possible collaboration or arrangement with the commission on bridge maintenance.
“We think it makes sense to take a joint approach to maintenance because the parks and bridge are seamless,” Nickerson said. “We haven’t made any final arrangements, but want to ensure it’s well-maintained.”
I-195 Commission Executive Director Jan Brodie said in an email that the “care, security, programming, art and events” of the I-195 land and bridge are best done collaboratively and possibly by an independent nonprofit.
While the pedestrian bridge begins to take form this fall, roughly a mile away, another nonauto bridge project will be coming to conclusion.
The refurbishment of the Washington Bridge bike path from Fox Point to East Providence into a “linear park” and bike path is slated to be completed in early November, RIDOT spokeswoman Rose Amoros said.
The $21.85 million project, begun in July 2012 by Cardi Corp., will create a separate bikeway and walking path, plus add “scenic overlooks, park benches, flag poles, decorative lighting and landscaped planters,” according to RIDOT. It will also repair the bridge facade and restore two houses that once controlled the drawbridge there. •

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