The new Barrington River Bridge as seen from the local boat yard. It will be open by summer’s end after five years of construction. Workers from Shire Bridge Construction of Johnston, R.I., can be seen on the span.
July marked a different kind of independence for residents and commuters who travel daily through the East Bay of Rhode Island.
After more than 15 years, the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) has announced the long-awaited openings of the Warren and Barrington bridges this summer — stone arches that connect and direct immediate traffic through the north and south ends of these quaint New England towns — and removal of 12-year-old temporary bridges, which have served in their place during construction.
“By the end of July, we anticipate to have traffic on the new Warren River Bridge,” said Frank Corrao, deputy chief engineer of RIDOT. “Once they finish that, the last operation left is to remove the temporary bridge and the target date to complete that would be the end of September.
“The Barrington Bridge will open at the end of summer, with the removal of the temporary bridge scheduled or targeted to be removed by January 2010,” added Corrao.
Sixteen Years of Plans
The sister spans, which connect Providence to Newport over Route 114 North-South, have been planned for more than 16 years. Tens of thousands of daily drivers come from Providence through the suburbs of Barrington, Warren and Bristol to Aquidneck Island and Newport over these stone bridges originally constructed on the eve of World War I. In summer months, the bridges are especially busy with tourists scurrying to Rhode Island’s premier resort towns.
The Barrington and Warren bridges carry Route 114, the heavily traveled, one-lane artery, up the east side of Narragansett Bay, across the Barrington, and parallel Warren Rivers, which are fed by the Bay.
RIDOT determined before 1994 that the cracked and crumbling concrete bridges, built 80 years before in 1914, should be repaired. Parts of the stone foundations had dislodged and fallen into the river.
State officials decided to construct temporary bridges in 1996-97, putting commuter traffic on these substitutes, while they redesigned the sister spans.
“This alleviated a lot of problems,” said Corrao. “It would have been a bit of a nightmare for residents of the East Bay without the temporary bridges.”
Several years passed, however, with funding delays, before designs could turn into actual construction of the new spans. The temporary bridges got so much use; they have had to be resurfaced once or twice.
There are children in the East Bay of Rhode Island whose only view of these bridges through their entire lives into middle school have been jutting, angular reddish steel beams and impressive rectangular concrete box beams.
Five Years to Construct
The ongoing $37 million rebuilding of the Barrington River Bridge and its sister project, the Warren River Bridge, a quarter mile to the south, has taken more than five years of actual reconstruction.
The new bridges include 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 bridges’ roadways.
The Shire Corporation of Johnston, R.I., won the contract for the new Barrington River Bridge with a low original bid of $10.3 million in August 2003. The original completion date was projected for September 2006, but the project has succumbed to delays, at first being pushed to August 2008, and finally to September 2009.
RIDOT now estimates the project to cost more than $22 million upon completion. The Warren River Bridge, rebuilt by Aetna Bridge Construction of Pawtucket, R.I., will now exceed $15 million in cost. Eighty percent of the money for both is coming from the federal government, with 20 percent coming from the state.
“The value of the project hasn’t changed significantly since April 2008, about $22 million for the Barrington Bridge, $15 for the Warren Bridge,” said Corrao. “Differing site conditions, during the early stages of each one of those projects, under the water, [have] added to the delay in completing both of those bridges.
As for the 12-plus-years of use of the temporary bridges, Corrao added, “They did last longer because during the life of those projects we have been doing inspections and interim repairs were done to maintain the integrity of those bridges for the time they needed to be in service.”
As for the life spans of the two new steel-and-concrete spans, Corrao said, “Most bridges we design have a 50- to 75-year design life. And with the appropriate maintenance, we should be able to extend that.”
The new bridges will still be only one lane in each direction, plus a walking sidewalk on both sides, to complement the beautiful 15-mi. East Bay Bicycle Path, which parallels both bridges, some 50 to 100 ft. to the west, built in 1991 over former Providence-Worcester railroad tracks through Barrington, Warren and Bristol.
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. Unexpected excessive rock, under the river’s mud line, caused engineers to modify plans and regroup.
“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 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.
The Barrington River 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, 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. The Warren River Bridge is slightly smaller in all of its dimensions, but similar in shape and design
Winter delays and dangerous water conditions also served to delay the work as well as the delicacy of maintaining the historic and architectural character of the bridge, Carrao added. But the Deputy Chief Engineer is grateful and pleased that the end of July marked the beginning of the end of the longstanding project.
“Everybody has been focused to completed the project. We are there!” said a happy Carrao. “One of the goals was to mimic the aesthetic of the old bridges and what we have now.”
He also is grateful for the cooperation of both municipalities and, especially, long suffering commuters through each.
“We appreciate the patience of both the Barrington and Warren communities during the construction of these two projects,” said Carrao. “The good news is we had temporary bridges in place. The impact to the motorists traveling them was almost seamless. However, the inconvenience to the community (was significant) and, specifically, the neighbors to the project have been very tolerant.” CEG