Forgive us if we don’t add to all the jubilation felt at Police Cove Park in Barrington on Monday. There, a contingent of federal, state and local politicians and bigwigs celebrated Rhode …
Forgive us if we don’t add to all the jubilation felt at Police Cove Park in Barrington on Monday. There, a contingent of federal, state and local politicians and bigwigs celebrated Rhode Island’s commitment to rebuild two decaying bike path bridges.
Our enthusiasm is tempered because the cause for celebration is dubious. Replacement of those two bridges should never have been in doubt. It should have been noted in a press release three years ago, as replacement was and is the only choice.
Yet instead of making replacement an automatic certainty when inspections revealed crumbling deck beams, the Rhode Island Department of Transportation stumbled through at least two years of confusion and uncertainty. First it said they would be replaced, and the estimated cost was $10 million. Then it said replacement was seriously in doubt, because the estimated cost might actually be $25 million.
When the public learned about the uncertain future for those bridges, the expected outcry followed. Private citizens and town leaders all complained about negative impacts to safety, quality of life, even property values in the East Bay. They were right on all counts.
The whole saga was reminiscent of just a few years ago, when DOT was contending with another small bridge in the East Bay. When the tiny Silver Creek Bridge needed replacement, the state unveiled its plan to close and rebuild the bridge at the entrance to downtown Bristol — thus choking off one of the town’s two traffic arteries for a period of months.
As would be expected, outcry came from everywhere, led by the local business community, and it persisted for more than a year, despite numerous statements from DOT that they had no choice — they had to close Route 114 for months. Of course they did have a choice, and they eventually designed a new plan to keep at least one lane of traffic open at all times.
The final outcome was ideal. The bridge was replaced, and traffic never became a nightmare for the downtown district.
So, hooray for the East Bay Bike Path. One of the true crown jewels of this region will be restored to its former self.
Yet again, why is doing the right thing so difficult?
DOT is doing incredible things, investing billions of dollars into some of the state’s most crucial infrastructure, redirecting highways and rebuilding bridges that carry tens of millions of vehicles every year. Unfortunately, it seems to have a blind spot for the small and seemingly insignificant. Eventually it chooses the right path, but only after a significant investment of emotional equity from those living in this small and seemingly insignificant region.