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Legendary Local Cyclist Inspires Washington Bridge Replacement

George Redman, the man credited a quarter century ago with getting the state to change its stance on obsolete railways - will get his name on a new path.

Wed January 15, 2014 - Northeast Edition
Jay Adams

The Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) has started shoring the granite walls of the facade and the sub-standard portion of the heavily-traveled George Washington Bridge in order to replace it with a much wider bike path for cyclists, a new traffic ramp and a spectacular linear park.

Similar to the 2008 reconstruction of the India Point Park Pedestrian Bridge, which parallels the Washington Bridge (just north of the Providence-East Providence line), this project will make a new area for walkers and cyclists.

Cardi Corporation of Warwick is the general contractor of the $21.2 million job. The job will involve rebuilding the cracked section of the original bridge that carries the existing narrow bikeway and a section of the original highway.

In the same footprint will stand a much wider bikeway, a linear park, walking path, scenic overlooks, park benches, flag poles, decorative lighting and landscaped planters when it is finished mid-summer 2014.

The new path and park will be named after legendary local cyclist George Redman, the man credited a quarter century ago with getting the state to change its stance on obsolete railways and roads to create the East Bay Bike Path and other state bike lanes, which now crisscross all of Rhode Island and are considered among the top bike paths in the entire nation.

Off-Ramp Done First

According to Robert Ferrara, resident engineer of RIDOT, the first part of the $21.2 million project was the reconstruction of the Washington Bridge off-ramp that leads cars off the bridge onto Veterans Memorial Parkway in East Providence, R.I.

“Both projects, the bikeway, the linear park and the redoing of the bridge started at the same time — November 2012,” said Ferrara. “We just completed the rebuild of the off-ramp in September. That was approximately $2 million of the total project with the rest to pay for the park work.”

Ferrara said the work on the off-ramp had an early completion date.

“They both started at the same time,” Ferrara said. “We wanted that off-ramp done in one year, as opposed to the pedestrian bridge, which will be finished, mid-summer, 2014.”

The Washington Bridge was widened and improved for eastbound commuter traffic in a protracted RIDOT project that was completed 10 years ago. The park under construction exists on the east side of the Seekonk River under two arches that have stood weathered and in disrepair, for a decade.

“The last two existing arches were built in the 1950s,” said Ferrara. “They were not demolished when the eastbound highway [Interstate 195] was rebuilt about 10 years ago. The purpose of saving them was to utilize them as a bikeway, the part of the bike path between Providence and East Providence.”

The existing bike pathways will remain in the same place, according to Ferrara. The East Providence side runs into Warren Avenue, as it did before. First Street connects with the dedicated bike path along Memorial Boulevard in East Providence. The other end will change slightly.

“The west side, the Providence side, will connect to India Street and then, [cyclists] can either go up Gano Street to the Pawtucket area, or follow it further west to Allens Avenue and the western parts of the bike path,” Ferrara said.

Key Stone Work Redone

The arches were built in 1959, and crews are recasting the arches with new granite and concrete.

“Concrete is being replaced on the columns that come off the arch that hold up the bridge deck,” said Ferrara. “They have deteriorated badly. Our crews are using the old concrete to the fullest extent possible, and then forming the new bridge deck after that,” said Ferrara. “The southern façade is a granite veneer. That all will get repointed and cleaned, and the key stones will get recast.”

Large carved concrete reliefs of the state shield at the center of each arch will be completely restored.

“I think everyone will be very pleased when it opens, with the granite work and the stamped concrete and the artistry that has gone into it,” said Ferrara. “The architects have worked very hard at taking something that easily could have been demolished and making it into something useful for the community.”

Besides the restoration of the historic, multi-arch granite façade, two operators’ houses that controlled the original drawbridge downriver will be restored.

Richard Ventrone, principal of Ventrone Architects LLC of Providence, R.I., is the chief architect of the bridge work. Vanasse, Hangen and Brustlin Inc., headquartered in Watertown, Mass., are the prime engineer firm that designed the arch and the surrounding cement markers.

The fabricator for the bridge steel work is MC Ironworks, a longtime company with a great reputation for quality steel, headquartered in Bath, Pa.

Cyclists Are Happy

Bikers, cyclists and pedestrians have lauded the work by RIDOT. The previous bike path was so thin that cyclists could not pass each other to get by. Often, they had to lift bikes over each other.

“The existing bikeway, the walkway on the Washington Bridge, was four or five feet wide at most. It’s a very narrow walkway,” said Ferrara. “If two bicycles were coming at each other, one would have to yield to the other one. The state is naming the new bikeway and park after George Redman. Cyclists are thrilled. They are looking forward to this opening.”

Once opened, the new oasis will be named the George Redman Linear Park after the late East Providence resident who was instrumental in making the East Bay Bike Path a reality 27 years ago, and who advocated for bike path development across the state.

Redman, still biking into his mid-80s, was honored in 2011 by Gov. Lincoln Chafee, family, friends and recreational path users for his dogged quest to build the East Bay Bike Path over existing railways. It was the first state walking and bike path to be constructed through multiple towns.

The breathtakingly scenic 14.7-mi. (23.7 km) path starts in the midst of the yachts, which dot Bristol Harbor at Independence Park in downtown Bristol, R.I., along the Warren River through downtown Warren crossing two rivers into downtown Barrington, R.I., paralleling those rivers through various parks in East Providence and ending near India Point Park, on the edge of Providence.

Poor health in 2011 did not allow the 87-year-old Redman to bike anymore, but he could still be found at Your Bike Shop in Warren, providing water and snacks to cyclists free all summer.

Redman was honored by the Governor, the DOT, and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management for his community involvement and sacrifice. From his service during World War II and his work as a Boy Scout leader, to his volunteer efforts to clean up Narragansett Bay, Redman valued his community. Despite loud municipal opposition he fought to get the state to support his dream of bike paths throughout Rhode Island.

According to various state sources, it was Redman’s determination which resulted in the allocation of the $1.2 million needed to build the East Bay Bike Path in the 1990s. It is now considered to be one of the top 10 most used paths in the United States.

Signatures were collected in 2006 to support unanimous state legislation to name the yet-to-be-completed linear park in “honor of a visionary.”

Redman died in 2012, knowing the park would be named after him. It was the RIDOT which announced his death statewide, reverence to the man they had worked with so closely for two decades.

Ferrara said that Redman would have been pleased that no vehicular traffic — tens of thousands of cars each day leaving and entering the bustling capitol city of Providence from the suburbs — will be interrupted during the two years that it will take to complete the beautification project alongside their five busy lanes.

“It’s a Godsend that we aren’t detouring on the bridge,” said Ferrara. “The only impact to traffic would be at nighttime and those are [the delivery of] the main stands, the new steel beams going in, that will carry the linear park. There will be a restriction at that time, for the nighttime placement of those beams, in the next couple of months.”

Marine or environmental obstacles are not an issue with this project.

“Other than the main channel there that is navigable, there are no marine concerns,” said Ferrara. “Permitting from the Coast Guard was necessary to work. And, during construction, the main channel has to remain open to the fullest extent possible.”

The well-known drawbridge, 328.1 ft. (100 m) away on the west side of the Seekonk River (which also is being repaired in a separate DOT project), is not related to this work.

“We are on time. There have been a few extras so far, two percent [of added costs over the original bid of $21.2 million],” said Ferrara. “But we are confident that by mid-summer, the ride is on.”

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