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Construction Moves Past Delays on Bridge Projects in Barrington, Warren

Tue April 01, 2008 - Northeast Edition
James A. Merolla

As thousands of cyclists meander down the winding, panoramic East Bay Bicycle Path — the thin asphalt artery that runs through Bristol County, R.I. — they routinely admire the usual glorious summer sights — the rolling waterways, the pristine lakes, the swans, the geese, the joggers, the green hills.

There is another impressive sight that bike path athletes and weekend warriors have come to see over many years — jutting, angular reddish steel and impressive rectangular concrete box beams — the ongoing $22 million rebuilding of the Barrington River Bridge and its sister project, the Warren River Bridge, a quarter mile to the south on Route 114 in Barrington.

The new bridge — four years in the works — includes new concrete abutments and rebuilt causeways at either end, where the bridge meets the rushing riverbank.

Six concrete piers built in the river and supported by piles driven into the river bottom, stand to support the new bridge’s roadway.

Connects Providence to Newport

Route 114 squeezes tens of thousands of daily drivers from Providence through East Providence, Barrington, Warren and Bristol — quaint, classic New England towns — to Aquidneck Island and Newport. Overflowing with tourists, it is especially busy during warm vacation months.

The Barrington Bridge carries Route 114, a heavily traveled, one-lane artery, up the east side of Narragansett Bay, across the Barrington River. (See sidebar.)

In 1994, it was determined by RIDOT that the old concrete bridges, built 80 years before in 1914, should be repaired. Parts of the stone foundations had dislodged and fallen into the river. It was soon discovered that deterioration was such, repairs couldn’t be made and traffic routed through simultaneously.

State officials decided to construct temporary bridges in 1996-97, putting commuter traffic on these bridges, while they redesigned the Barrington (and Warren) River Bridge.

But years passed before designs could turn into actual work and the temporary bridges got so much use, they’ve had to be resurfaced once or twice. (Yet, despite suffering from some choppy pavement at various sections, the temporary Barrington River Bridge does not show any signs of structural deficiency according to a recent evaluation. Engineers inspect the bridge every two years.)

More than a decade has passed since the temporary bridges were erected.

The Shire Corporation of Johnston, R.I., won the contract for the new bridge with a low original bid of $10.3 million in August 2003. The original completion date was projected for September of 2006, but the project has succumbed to delays, at first being pushed to August of this year, and finally to June 2009.

The project is now estimated to cost $21-22 million upon completion, according to state officials. Eighty percent of the money is coming from the federal government, with 20 percent coming from the state.

“Our goal now is to have traffic on the bridge by May 2009,” said Frank Corrao, deputy chief engineer of RIDOT. “But the actual completion date of project — which includes removal of the temporary bridge — is September 2010.”

Delays and Redesign

Corrao said the considerable delays and subsequent rising costs were due to several factors involving unanticipated underwater conditions, which led to a project redesign.

“The delays were due to a couple of things. We had expected to find certain conditions under the water and under the mud line. And, based on our initial data collection for the design, we made assumptions of where the rock was. Then, once we were actually doing the work, some of those assumptions had to be modified, resulting in time lost in the contract and a redesign,” said Corrao.

He added that other problems involved the cofferdams intended to help demolish the old bridge and build the new one.

For the bridge project, the cofferdams consist of interlocking steel sheathing driven into the river bottom and extending above the water level.That river bottom, Corrao added, consisted of muck over shale, a weathered and fragmented stone. Water is pumped out, allowing work below the water level. However, the original engineering design was unable to keep water out, Corrao said.

“The cofferdams had to be modified,” added Corrao. “Also, there were some ambiguities in the specifications as to whether they had to demolish the old bridge piers and footings,” whether that demolition was to be carried out under water, or with the water pumped out, a normal practice.

Shire hadn’t considered that to be part of the contract, Corrao added.

The first design plans also didn’t take into account the cost of hauling mud dug out of the river to the state Central Landfill, Corrao said. Added steel costs also were a mitigating factor in hikes.

25,000 Cars a Day

Barrington Bridge — from abutment to abutment — will be approximately 426 ft. (130 m) long and 44 ft. (13.4 m) wide, back of sidewalk to back of sidewalk.

Most of the bridge is a concrete structure, with seven sets of concrete rectangular box beams, being pre-cast by a company called Schuylkill, based in Schuylkill, Pa. There will be six piers, reinforced with steel rebars.

Corrao said that approximately 3,500 cu. yds. (2,676 cu m) of concrete will be used for the Barrington Bridge. There is a Shire crew of 15 workers per day, occasionally working extended work days and Saturdays, to take advantage of good weather in order to finish the bridge by May, a month ahead of the revised schedule. Because it is a marine operation, there are several barges in the nearby river, a boom crane, and the usual array of excavators and backhoes.

Approximately 25,000 vehicles travel over each bridge, each day. The bridge will neither be lengthened nor widened from the original, so the same one-lane format in either direction will exist, saving commuters no driving time. But neither have they been stopped during the last few years.

“Obviously, it has been a great advantage to work on the new alignment over the temporary bridge,” said Corrao. “It pretty much eliminates the need for a detour in that area. That was critical with the traffic there, especially during summer months. The municipalities of Barrington and Warren have been very cooperative with us, and are pleased with the fact we have a new completion date for that project.”

Some environmental constraints have also slowed down the work, including:

• Contractors not being allowed to be in water between January and July because of fish mitigation and breeding during that time

• The safety of crew members. “Tidal currents are very strong under the river. You have to be careful as to when to move equipment. You have to be able to battle the tides and currents,” said Corrao.

• Maintaining the historic character of the bridges. Concrete panels will be placed on the outside of the Barrington bridge, to replicate the original high concrete arches. CEG

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