Sakonnet Bridge opening bittersweet


Even for those who knew the new northbound span had opened, Thursday's was a memorable morning commute for those headed off-island from Portsmouth to Tiverton across the Sakonnet River Bridge.

By the Hummocks, barriers guided them right and suddenly they were in brand new territory.

Unlike the old, which rises steadily from Portsmouth to Tiverton, the new one swoops wider to the south, higher at mid-point than before, then turns to the northeast to make the curve beneath Tiverton's Main Road.

It's a more spacious ride since both sides are considerably wider than they were on the old bridge — total width of 96 feet total vs. 68 feet. Each side features two 12-foot travel lanes , a 10-foot shoulder/breakdown lane, and a 4-foot shoulder next to the high speed lane (the old bridge had only the two 12-foot travel lanes and 4-foot shoulder. Adding to the width is a 13-foot wide bike lane on the southbound side.

Mariners will find a wider passage under the bridge’s center span and the new bridge maintains the minimum vertical clearance over the river of 65 feet.

"Bizzare," "Beautiful,"That woke me up" were among comments from local motorists about that first crossing. Some praised it, others remarked on the road surface but all took notice. And most, though saying the new bridge is much better than the old, called the experience bittersweet. State toll plans take away most of the satisfaction, many said.

To Scott Humphrey, president of Humphrey's Building Supply Center in Tiverton, the re-opening of the bridge "has had a huge impact."

"We've been sending all of our heavies up Route 24, west over 103, then down Metacom and over the Mount Hope Bridge, just to get to the Island," he said.

At $6 per mile "for moving stuff by the heavies," it all adds up, he said.

Since the bridge became unusable about four-and-a-half years or so ago, he said, it's cost his company about $18,000 per year, just to get loads to the other side of the Sakonnet River. He said his trucks made approximately five or six trips daily, one way, not over the bridge, adding in the range of 35 extra miles to the distance traveled and taking an extra 1.5 hours.

Portsmouth Public Works Director David Kehew drove a town truck over to Tiverton Sign Shop that morning and called it "quite an experience" — a mixed experience.

He calls himself a perpetual observer of all things to do with roads and bridges — "probably drive my wife crazy on trips because I notice road crowns, asphalt, catch basins, curbing, you name it."

"I found the transition (from road to bridge on both sides) to be "less than smooth but that may be something that still has to be worked out," and felt the same about the feel of the asphalt. "I guess you just expect more from something brand new"

And he said he immediately wondered drainage. In the right hand lane, he felt that there was a "real bank to the left" but then when he moved into the passing lane "I no longer noticed the bank. It was like an illusion."

But he gave the railings and southerly view good grades. "It's probably a bit soon to judge everything," he said, because there are still finishing touches to complete.

Several people remarked on what appear to be a dip in the bridge approaching the Tiverton side from Portsmouth.

That is not, as some rumors have it, evidence that the bridge is sinking into the river bottom, DOT Director Michael Lewis said Monday. Rather, it reflects a money saving design change part way through the project that changed the elevation where the bridge meets the Tiverton shore.

He adds that he notices it (and admits that it bothers him "a little bit").

Roger Bennis of Tiverton, said the bridge itself is fine but the connections on either side aqre surprisingly unpolished. "You get this squished feeling, especially was you get off in Tiverton. I'm surprised they did not get that taken care of sooner."

He said he is glad to see exit 5 back open at Main Road — "That detour was way too long … but the exit ramp itself is still in bad shape."

He added that "Apparently Cardi must be confident that they aren't facing much of a fine for being tardy." He based that on the fact that "instead of two, four or six workers up there lately, I would have expected to see big crews working around the clock."

He added that tolls will ruin the new bridge experience. "Between us, my wife and I cross that bridge eight times each day."

Sara Kitt, manager at Coastal Roasters said the opening was the talk of the coffee shop Thursday.

"Everybody's happy," she said. "A lot of people are just surprised it opened so suddenly. They wish it had been earlier." A resident of Little Compton, Ms. Kitt said, "my kids go to high school in Portsmouth. If they have anything like an event at school, or I have to go there during the day, with the tolls, it'll all add up."

Linda Cogswell of Tiverton and a Coastal Roasters customer said the railings seemed a bit low, but  "The view is beautiful, better than the older bridge. And it's nice not see rust."


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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.