Up from the ashes — the Wood Street extension in Bristol

In response to Silver Creek Bridge project, town is dusting off Wood Street extension plans

By Christy Nadalin
Posted 7/12/19

Bristol has always had the power to create a work-around for the state’s planned closure of Route 114 over Silver Creek, but unlike Dorothy’s route out of Oz, it’s going to take a …

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Up from the ashes — the Wood Street extension in Bristol

In response to Silver Creek Bridge project, town is dusting off Wood Street extension plans


Bristol has always had the power to create a work-around for the state’s planned closure of Route 114 over Silver Creek, but unlike Dorothy’s route out of Oz, it’s going to take a lot more than three heel clicks of some ruby slippers.

The 1990 plans for an official extension of Wood Street, over an existing town-owned “paper road” have been sitting in a cabinet in Bristol Town Hall for nearly 30 years. But as the state continues to insist that alternate proposals to closing the bridge to all traffic, like a temporary bridge, are not economically feasible, the idea of revisiting the long-shelved plans has become more appealing.

“The permitting is going to be challenging,” said Town Administrator Steven Contente. “But I’m not hearing it can’t be done.”

To that end, Mr. Contente was schedule to meet with Scott Hobson, a wetlands biologist, on Wednesday, July 10, to review the old plans and see where adjustments will need to be made. He has already met with DPW Director Kevin McBride, Community Development Director Diane Williamson, and Halsey Herreshoff, who was town administrator in 1990 when the plans were first developed. The group is cautiously optimistic. If Mr. Hobson agrees that the plans look promising, Mr. Contente plans to put the project on the agenda for the July 17 Bristol Town Council meeting and request a delay of the Silver Creek project from DOT to allow the extension to be built.

Extension would be long-term solution

What is appealing about the Wood Street extension project is that it is not just a quick fix to a two-month problem. “This would benefit Bristol now, and in the future,” said Mr. Contente. The Silver Creek area faces potential sea rise issues in the future, something many feel the DOT’s bridge replacement plan is failing to adequately address, which could again leave Bristol, at times, with only one north-south route. Safety officials have long been uncomfortable with the fact that the parade leaves much of town with only one emergency exit, and of course it would do much to alleviate existing, chronic traffic congestion, particularly northbound along 114 between Washington and Chestnut streets.

“It’s always been a concern,” said Mr. Contente of the evacuation route issue, a perennial worry throughout his years at the Bristol Police Department when he was involved in emergency incident action planning.

Public, undeveloped land

The extension would be built along an existing “paper road” — a stretch of public, undeveloped land that runs 1,800 feet from the current end of Wood Street to Chestnut Street, passing between St. Mary’s Cemetery and the Benjamin Church Manor and emerging across from Naomi Street.

“It’s not that big,” said Mr. McBride. “You can see from one end to the other.”

As drawn in 1990, the plans do overlap some land currently owned by the Bristol Housing Authority, which manages Benjamin Church Manor. But, as the planning group emphasized, the 1990 plans are very much subject to change.

“The design criteria has changed since 1990,” said Mr. Mc Bride. “These plans should be considered a preliminary alignment that needs to be looked at 30 years later. It’s a concept, really.”

Environmental concerns ended 1990 plan

“It was one of my biggest disappointments that I didn’t get this done,” said Mr. Herreshoff, meeting Tuesday morning in Mr. Contente’s office with Ms. Williamson and Mr. McBride. “I’m delighted that Steve is going to undertake this.” The project, Mr. Herreshoff said, was ultimately scrapped by Save the Bay. “I didn’t work hard enough on a work-around at the time.”

“We are confident that things have changed since then,” said Mr. Contente. “There’s an urgent need for a new north-south route, and it would really open up Broad Common Road and Wood Street and economically integrate those areas into downtown.

“It can be done mindfully, and responsibly with regard to the watershed. We will make it an approved estuary … there are environmental designs nowadays that provide for wildlife breaks, that sort of thing.”

It’s time to be bold, get a good team together, and get this done.”

With Ms. Williamson, a certified floodplain manager, and Mr. McBride, a professional engineer, on the team, they already have a lot of in-house expertise.

Permitting biggest hurdle

“I think it’s a process that we are going to have to work through with state permitting agencies,” said Ms. Williamson. “We are going to have to look at design to make it environmentally sensitive, perhaps shift alignment in places to avoid environmentally sensitive areas. The state Department of Environmental Management and Coastal Resources Management Council will be involved, and one thing that they have been emphasizing lately is the importance of considering the impact of sea level rise on transportation infrastructure — do we retreat? Elevate? Silver Creek bridge is not being designed with climate change in mind.”

“We have some logistics to get through, no question,” said Mr. Contente. “My goal would be to fast track the permitting, since there is urgency here. It’s early now, but we’d really like to get this expedited.”

Another plus to this project — to which the team has given the working title “Silver Creek Scenic Causeway,” though it would likely take the name of Wood Street on completion — is that it would be a town road, not subject to state-level decisions, unlike both Hope Street and Metacom Avenue.

“We have a proven track record,” said Mr. Contente. We are completing Tanyard Brook, the drainage project at the sewer department, the boardwalk behind the fire station … I’m confident we can get this done.

“I’d prefer to put our energy into something we can accomplish.”

“I think this is something that every citizen of Bristol will like when it’s finished,” said Mr. Herreshoff.

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