DOT and town agree: Bristol bridge must close

State explains why the only choice is to close the bridge next summer

By Kristen Ray
Posted 5/9/19

The project had long been in motion, conversations with the town had been held. As far as the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (DOT) was concerned, everything was going according to plan. It …

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DOT and town agree: Bristol bridge must close

State explains why the only choice is to close the bridge next summer


The project had long been in motion, conversations with the town had been held. As far as the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (DOT) was concerned, everything was going according to plan. It came as a shock, then, when the volume on the impending Silver Creek Bridge closure was turned up to a deafening degree here in Bristol last month.

Though business owners and residents alike have questioned details about the plan (namely, 2020 summer closure timeline), members of the DOT and town officials maintain that the current plan is the best plan — here’s why:

Small but significant

Built nearly a century ago in 1922, the Silver Creek Bridge — at just 20 feet in length — has long played a critical role in the daily life of Bristol. The DOT has known for some time that it was due for some maintenance, originally citing a 2021-2024 timeframe. Yet they were alarmed to see that, through a routine inspection, the Silver Creek Bridge is in worse condition than they originally thought.

“It’s a structurally deficient bridge, so if we don’t fix it, it’s going to fall down, then nobody will be able to use it,” DOT Director Peter Alviti stated in an interview on the Matt Allen Show.

That revelation fast-tracked the project to this year, with workers expected to begin relocating the bridge’s utilities this fall. For DOT, it will be an involved process, considering the main gas, sewer and water lines running either under or through the bridge itself that need to stay in service. Though that phase of the project may continue through May, into June next year, Charles St. Martin, chief of public affairs for DOT, said they are aiming to keep both lanes of Route 114 open, albeit shifted, for its duration. However, the exact timeframe and traffic pattern, he said, cannot be determined until they settle on and beginning working with the project’s contractor.

Once that part has been completed, the DOT will shift its focus to the next phase — the demolition and reconstruction of the bridge itself, currently slated for the weeks immediately following the Fourth of July celebration in 2020. For approximately two months, the DOT will need to shut down that portion of Hope Street, forcing a major detour through Chestnut Street and onto Metacom Avenue.

“It makes my stomach turn, too, but we’ve exhausted all the other possibilities,” Director Alviti said.

With the bridge being a historic structure, the DOT is forced to abide by certain regulations as they work, including preserving the stonework. The location, too, has additionally been restricting, with environmental factors like tidal pools and the Silver Creek itself dictating how and where parts of the structure can be put in place.

“Unlike bridges where we have done weekend replacements, at this site there is a waterway adjacent to the bridge that prevents us from rebuilding the bridge abutments while traffic is flowing,” said Mr. St. Martin. “In short, the topography forbids accelerated bridge construction.”

Much of the actual construction will be completed off-site before being dropped back in. Part of the reconstruction plans will involve taking climate change into consideration, allowing for the bridge to accommodate rising sea levels. The sewer line — currently running straight through the bridge—will be repositioned under it. Despite all the scheduled improvements, however, even Director Alviti has had to gripe about the project from time to time.

“It’s a little, tiny bridge, but it’s a real pain in the butt.”

Addressing the timeframe

Though many have accepted that if the bridge needs to close for two months in order to fix it, so be it, a good number are still left asking: Why July and August? Why during the height of the summer season when, as several downtown businesses have pointed out, they make the sales that allow them to survive?

While the DOT has previously stated that they had analyzed food and beverage tax revenues and factored in the input from 15 East Bay Chamber of Commerce members, they also had to consider several other variables as well.

For one, in order to keep the gas line fully in service for the winter months, National Grid forbids any construction work to be done from Nov. 15 until roughly mid-April. Public safety, for the town, was another huge concern; with the inevitable increase in traffic flow, they were wary of having any portion of the closure occurring during the school year should there be any sort of emergency. Plus, with the Fourth of July festivities officially kickstarting in June, DOT is hesitant to plan any road closures so close to the start of the holiday season. As of April 23, the town has officially signed off on the DOT’s plan.

“It makes sense. I’m supporting DOT’s plans; I think it benefits the entire community,” said Town Administrator Steven Contente.

Moving forward, members of the DOT will be meeting with different entities of the town to discuss the project, beginning with the business community at the Maritime Center on Tuesday, May 21. A general public hearing is still in the process of being scheduled. 

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