DOT pledges $1 million East Bay Bike Path fix

Action follows bike accidents, complaints about path condition

By Bruce Burdett
Posted 9/14/17

Once again, about a month ago, a cyclist came to grief on a short stretch of the East Bay Bike Path just north of Bristol’s Beach Road.

Linda Brunini-Formica didn’t see it happen but arrived …

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DOT pledges $1 million East Bay Bike Path fix

Action follows bike accidents, complaints about path condition


Once again, about a month ago, a cyclist came to grief on a short stretch of the East Bay Bike Path just north of Bristol’s Beach Road.

Linda Brunini-Formica didn’t see it happen but arrived minutes later on her bike to find an ambulance parked on the path.

“I did not stop because it didn't seem appropriate but had to walk my bicycle past to safely get around the ambulance. She (the victim) was seated.” There was talk that the woman seemed badly hurt (emergency personnel don’t typically release patient names and conditions due to privacy rules).

Although it is no worse than dozens of other sections along the 14.5-mile path, the state Department of Transportation (DOT) had been warned about this bumpy section before.

In an Oct. 29, 2016, letter to the DOT in which he expressed concerns about the path’s deteriorating condition, Bristol resident Lee Hayes mentioned this same location among others … “This summer I personally have seen a skateboarder and two bikers (one little person and an elderly gentleman ) take bad falls from the root bumps near Beach Road, and have helped two bikers change flat tires caused by a crack and a root bump.”

A day or two after this latest injury, DOT marked the bumps near Beach Road with red spray paint. Within the week the bumps had been ground down and repaved.

Asked why this particular place, and not others, had received attention, DOT spokesman Charles St. Martin said his department has received complaints about that location and “we heard of someone falling off a bike” there. He said he did not know the person’s condition.

“All of us who ride the path regularly wish that they would repair many areas or repave the entire section from Bristol through to Barrington. It is such a valuable asset to Bristol and Warren. Warren is particularly bad, in my opinion,” Ms. Brunini-Formica said.

Repairs coming — really

Things should improve markedly next spring, said Mr. St. Martin and Dave Fish, DOT’s head project director, in a telephone interview last week.

They said the department has budgeted a bit over $1 million for a project that will go out to bid in a month and for which work should begin in the spring. Completion date for most of the work will be July 1, 2018.

While DOT has promised, then backed off, such projects for the past three years — everything from spot repairs to whole-path rebuilds — this time seems certain, they said.

“The funds are available,” Mr. Fish said. “We are at the point where the pavement condition has deteriorated to the point that we need to address it.”

The project they described will include:

• Two miles of “mill and overlay” — grinding down old pavement and replacing with fresh asphalt. This will include four of the worst sections from East Providence to around Campbell Street in Warren.

• 4.5 miles of path will be repaved — these are areas where the surface has deteriorated but not so badly that the engineers feel grinding down is required.

• Crack filling will be done on most of the remaining path (around seven miles) that is still in good condition.

• Tree root removal and large root cutting will be undertaken at a number of locations (by Oct. 30, 2018).

• Removal of knotweed and other invasives that grow out into the path late each summer (by Oct. 30, 2018).

• Erosion control will be done on the Bristol waterfront from around Sip and Dip to Agave restaurant where the edge of the path is breaking away and collapsing into the harbor.

The precise timing is not yet known but will be done in such a way as to minimize disruptions for bike riders, Mr. St. Martin said.

“Our plan is to touch the entire path in one way or another.”

Barrington bumps

One of the path’s worst stretches is located near Barrington’s Brickyard Pond where roots have rendered parts of the path all but unrideable (worn sections of adjacent grass testify to the fact that many choose to ride off the path rather than tackle those bumps).

Recently, loads of asphalt were slapped onto a few of these places but the patches are about as bumpy as what they cover (later someone applied warning paint to the patch and “Rough Pavement” signs).

“Really? This is the worst patch job I ever saw,” one passing bike rider remarked last week.

Shown photographs of these, Mr. St. Martin said he checked with all involved in DOT bike path work. Their conclusion — “We did not do that.”

Contacted next, Barrington Town Manager Jim Cunha said, “Yes, that was us.”

“We have gotten numerous complaints about the condition of the bike path and we have been trying to get DOT to fix it.”

When nothing happened, “Our DPW made an attempt to repair it and that repair job did not come off as well as it should have.”

After some back and forth, he said Friday that the state Department of Environmental Management (the path’s actual owner) has agreed “to patch our patches.”

The DEM delivered quickly. Friday evening three of the patch spots were dug up along with underlying bumpy pavement. By the end of Saturday, new smooth patches were in place.

Barrington’s work was well intended, Mr. Cunha said, “but the (town’s) patch job was marginally effective and that is probably being kind.”

“No comment,” Mr. St. Martin said when asked whether DOT welcomes towns or others to attempt such repairs on the state’s bike paths.

Those #!* roots!

Although different parts of the path suffer from varying issues (side-to-side shrinkage cracks in Warren, small, abrupt sinkholes in parts of Bristol and Warren), roots are the culprit in most of the paths bumps. Roots growing beneath the path lift the pavement into steep ridges — “It is a problem for us and for bike paths everywhere,” Mr. Fish said.

The only repair done in recent years was to a roughly 90-foot root-ridden stretch in East Providence (just north of Crescent View Avenue near the carousel). At the time, the DOT said the contractor would be cutting roots and putting in root barriers in addition to grinding down and replacing pavement).

Already, roots appear to be lifting and cracking that nearly new stretch.

Root cutting was done there — a machine with a big cutting wheel blade — but adjacent locust trees put out fast growing shallow roots, Mr. St. Martin and Mr. Fish said. “We are looking at that” there and elsewhere, they said, but roots are a challenge.

Tired bridge sidewalks

Workers recently installed chain link fences on the bike path bridges in Barrington and Warren to keep pedestrians and fishermen off sidewalks that have been deemed unsafe.

The DOT closed the sidewalks earlier this summer when inspectors discovered that supports underneath, some fashioned from beams from the original train track trestles, had rotted.

Orange traffic barrels, rope and yellow caution tape meant to keep people off had little effect,

”We found that the barrels were thrown over the side and into the river," Mr. St. Martin said. "That left the sidewalks unprotected."

The DOT has not announced a timetable for repairs.

Further down the road, Mr. Cunha said, is a plan to entirely replace both bridges.

Repairs — on again, off again

The DOT has repeatedly acknowledged that the path needs work but plans to accomplish that seem to come and go.

Nearly three years ago, DOT said it planned to repair and repave 11 miles of the path from Bristol Harbor to Riverside Square at a cost of $750,000.

That plan never got going — instead, a 90-foot stretch near Crescent View Avenue in Riverside was fixed just before winter.

Last fall, DOT outlined in detail work that would be done in the coming spring to a number of the worst stretches, mostly in Barrington, Warren, and Bristol. Also, the wooden decking of both bridges was to be replaced.

That didn’t happen either. In mid-summer, DOT said it was re-evaluating its approach and was again considering a length-of-the path repair and repave.

Mr. Fish and Mr. St. Martin said that complications have included competing priorities and funding, including recent completion of a new section of bike path that links the East Bay Bike Path to the Blackstone Valley Bike Path.

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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.