Portsmouth man: Let there be (more) light on Mt. Hope Bridge

He wants RITBA to install lights on superstructure towers

By Jim McGaw
Posted 8/1/19

PORTSMOUTH/BRISTOL — In 1980, Hummock Avenue resident John Vitkevich purchased four placemats that featured a photograph of the Mt. Hope Bridge taken from the Bristol Ferry area of …

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Portsmouth man: Let there be (more) light on Mt. Hope Bridge

He wants RITBA to install lights on superstructure towers

Posted

PORTSMOUTH/BRISTOL — In 1980, Hummock Avenue resident John Vitkevich purchased four placemats that featured a photograph of the Mt. Hope Bridge taken from the Bristol Ferry area of Portsmouth. The picture showed the bridge aglow from rows of incandescent bulbs lining both its suspension cables and two superstructure towers.

The placemats, however, had “Newport, RI” printed on its lower, righthand corners. So, two years ago, Mr. Vitkevich decided to make his own “corrected” copies of the dining mats, with “Portsmouth” and “Bristol” printed on the left and right sides, respectively. He presented 18 of them to the R.I. Turnpike and Bridge Authority (RITBA), which operates the bridge.

“When the dignitaries bring out their coffee and crumpets, they take out the placemats. They love them,” Mr. Vitkevich said Wednesday.

Now he wants RITBA to make the bridge look like it once did, as depicted in that old photo.

“I want the lights reinstalled on the towers,” Mr. Vitkevich said. “There are two towers, one on the Bristol side and one on the Portsmouth side. It’s about 1,000 feet of light.”

The tower lights went dark, he said, shortly after a ship crashed into the superstructure in the 1970s. Mr. Vitkevich said he’s not sure of the date. According to an online report on ship/bridge collisions, however, a ship sliced through “40 percent” of one leg of a steel tower in 1975 in heavy fog at night. 

The incandescent bulbs on the towers, which were costly and didn’t last long, were never replaced, he said. Now that RITBA has since switched to LED bulbs, it wouldn’t be expensive to put them on the towers, he said.

Mr. Vitkevich said this is the deal time to put the bridge back in the spotlight, since it will soon be celebrating its 90th anniversary. The span opened on Oct. 24, 1929, five days before the infamous stock market crash that plunged the country into depression.

Mr. Vitkevich pointed out how much time and money was spent by RITBA to celebrate the recent 50th anniversary of the Newport Pell Bridge.

“This would be a fitting tribute on the 90th anniversary,” he said.

Going before councils

First he’ll be asking the town councils of the two municipalities that are joined by the span to support his request. His request goes before the Bristol council on Aug. 7, and then the Portsmouth panel on Aug. 13.

Mr. Vitkevich readily admits he has something to gain personally from additional bridge lights. “My view of the Mt. Hope Bridge would be greatly enhanced,” he said.

But he also said it would be a great benefit to the entire East Bay community, since the bridge is such a “vital link” to Aquidneck Island.

“Ninety years of passage over our beautiful bays, Narraganset and Mt. Hope,” he stated in his letter to the Town of Bristol. “Ninety years of commerce exchanged between our two communities in employment and tourism.”

Mr. Vitkevich, who fought the tolls on the new Sakonnet River Bridge but claims to have a “pretty good rapport” with RITBA Executive Director Buddy Croft these days, said he hopes to be around for the Mt. Hope Bridge’s 100th birthday in 2029.

“I told Buddy Croft, we’re going to walk across the bridge on the 100th anniversary,” he said.

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