R.I. nets $5M for East Bay Bike Path bridges

Updated at 5:07 p.m.

TWO WOODEN BOARDWALKS adjacent to Route 114 currently serve as a temporary detour while the East Bay Bike Path bridges await repair. / PBN PHOTO/JACQUELYN VOGHEL

BARRINGTON – The potential replacement of two East Bay Bike Path bridges will receive a $5 million boost from the $1.5 trillion federal spending bill.

The funding, part of a $229 million federal allocation to Rhode Island announced by U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., will bring the project closer to its estimated price tag of more than $25 million, but the effort is still far away from reaching this goal.

In addition to the $5 million approved by Congress, the state previously set aside $10 million for the project.

The two bridges, which span the Barrington and Palmer rivers alongside Route 114, were closed in Nov. 2019 after regular inspections revealed structural deficiencies and advanced deterioration in both bridges.

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Since then, R.I. Department of Transportation has built a temporary detour but has not committed to replacing the bridges. Department spokesperson Charles St. Martin said RIDOT has been working toward this goal from the beginning but has been hampered by financial barriers.

“It has always been our mission to rebuild both bridges,” St. Martin said. “The shortage of funds necessary to do that has created a challenge for us.”

RIDOT currently has a bidding opportunity posted for the East Bay Bike Path Bridge replacement. St. Martin said the request for proposals process that the department is conducting for design and construction “includes our intent to build both bridges.”

“We hope that creative and competitive solutions provided by the competing proposals will yield a solution to the challenges with the $5 million in funding from the earmark,” St. Martin added.

But the prolonged bridge closures have faced heavy criticism from cyclists and sustainable transportation advocates, with Grow Smart Rhode Island Executive Director Scott Wolf last year calling the closure “emblematic of a fairly consistent policy over the last several years of treating bike and [pedestrian] infrastructure as more of a nuisance than a policy.”

Grow Smart Rhode Island estimates that RIDOT’s proposed spending on pedestrian and bicycle improvements will comprise 1.8% of total state transportation spending from 2022 to 2025, down from proposals a few years prior, PBN reported.

RIDOT Director Peter Alviti disputed this criticism, saying that according to his calculations, the department has increased its annual spending on active transportation from $13 million to $20 million per year since 2016.

The two bridges were built in the late 1880s as railroad bridges, according to RIDOT, and converted to bike and pedestrian bridges in the 1980s.

For just over two years after the bridge closures, cyclists and pedestrians had to cross Route 114 twice and walk bikes across the sidewalk while crews built a $2 million temporary detour. This detour, a boardwalk-style structure attached to the road bridges, opened to the public in December 2021.

(UPDATE: Adds paragraphs 5-8 with comment from RIDOT, minor updates and recasts throughout.)

Jacquelyn Voghel is a PBN staff writer. You may reach her at Voghel@PBN.com.

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