$82.5M federal grant awarded for Pell Bridge upgrades

THE U.S. DEPARTMENT of Transportation Thursday announced the awarding of $82.5 million in federal funding to the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority toward upgrades to the Claiborne Pell Bridge. / PBN FILE PHOTO/NICOLE DOTZENROD

PROVIDENCE – The Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority was awarded $82.5 million in federal funding for upgrades to the Claiborne Pell Bridge in Newport, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced Thursday.

The money will go toward a “partial-depth” reconstruction of the Pell Bridge’s deck and the west approach spans, installation of a de-humidification system to the main cables and anchorages and repairs to the tower elevators, according to the press release, and includes an acoustic monitoring system and intelligent transportation enhancements.

Increased humidity has been “accelerating the need to repair the main cables, suspenders, and other elements of the suspension system,” state’s congressional delegation said in a news release.

The project also includes the installation of a de-humidification system to reduce moisture and halt the corrosion process. Part of the money will be used to repair the tower elevators, replace the finger joints that accommodate movement in the bridge, and repaint the towers. Upgrades also call for additional security cameras.

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The award comes from the Infrastructure for Rebuilding America competitive grant program established in 2015. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, passed by Congress in 2021, will provide $8 billion to the program over the next five years, including the $1.5 billion that was made available in this latest round of funding.

Projects seeking federal funding were evaluated “based on safety, how they supported freight movement and job creation, their efforts to address climate change and resiliency, impacts on equity and quality of life, how they applied innovative technology, their cost effectiveness and demonstrated project readiness,” according to the USDOT announcement.

The four-lane suspension bridge connecting Newport to Jamestown is a federally recognized Critical Urban Freight Corridor. The bridge, first opened in 1969, carries Route 138 over the Narragansett Bay and is named after the late Sen. Claiborne Pell, who served six terms in Congress between 1961 and 1997.

The state’s congressional delegation praised the development in a joint press release that said the projects should “extend the life of New England’s longest suspension bridge by an additional 50 to 75 years.”

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., who authored the 2105 bill for the grant program, called the Pell Bridge the Ocean State’s most iconic landmark.

“We will be able to keep it that way for at least an additional half century thanks to this enormous federal grant,” he said. “There is much to be done to bring the bridge into the twenty-first century.”

U.S. Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., called the bridge an “integral piece of our infrastructure.”

“The Pell Bridge is a prime example of the types of projects that the bipartisan infrastructure law was designed to support and fund,” added U.S. Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I. “I am looking forward to an extended, long life for this Rhode Island icon.”

Rhode Island previously received a $60.3 million INFRA grant to rebuild the Northbound Providence Viaduct and a $65 million INFRA grant to overhaul Route 146.

RITBA Executive Director Lori Caron Silveira told Providence Business News that a number of the infrastructure upgrades had been started or were already a top priority for the agency, but a lack of necessary funding had slowed the timeline.

“Some of the decking has been done. We were waiting to complete it,” she said. “Now this will allow us to move the deck completion project up in the timeline.”

Silveira said that climate concerns had accelerated the improvement needs of the state’s infrastructure.

“[Our] bridges need maintenance,” she said. “And we need to protect them.

“Most of the projects will now undergo the state’s bidding process after a six-month review by the federal government,” said Silveira, adding that the money should go a long way to maintaining the bridge for decades to come.

“This is big money,” she said.

Christopher Allen is a PBN Staff Writer. You may reach him at Allen@PBN.com.

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