Gov. Donald L. Carcieri, Congressman Patrick Kennedy and Rhode Island Department of Transportation Director Michael P. Lewis joined numerous federal, state and local officials April 24 in celebrating the groundbreaking for the new Sakonnet River Bridge. The event took place on the Portsmouth side of the Sakonnet River on the shore where the new bridge will be built.
The Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) awarded a $163.7 million contract to Cardi Corporation for the construction of the new Sakonnet River Bridge, which will be built to the south of the existing Sakonnet River Bridge. It is the largest single bridge contract in RIDOT’s history.
“This is a day we’ve been waiting for,” Carcieri said. “This bridge is a vital link to Aquidneck Island and replacing it as quickly as possible is a top priority for Rhode Island.”
Construction will begin shortly and RIDOT anticipated the new bridge will be open to traffic in 2012. The contract with Cardi Corporation includes an early incentive clause, up to $5 million, which could result in the bridge opening one year earlier. RIDOT estimated this project will create up to 140 direct jobs and 330 indirect jobs.
An estimated 40,000 vehicles per day cross the Sakonnet River Bridge, which carries Route 24 between Portsmouth and Tiverton. The bridge currently has an 18-ton (16 t) weight limit, requiring truck traffic to and from the Aquidneck Island communities of Newport, Middletown and Portsmouth to seek alternate routes — often resulting in a detour up to 30 mi. long.
“The department is eager to begin construction on the new Sakonnet River Bridge,” Lewis said. “The new bridge will alleviate the weight restriction and replace a vital transportation link for Newport County.”
RIDOT has determined that it is more cost-effective to replace the 53-year-old bridge rather than rehabilitate the old one. Rehabilitating the old bridge would have been very disruptive to traffic and likely would have taken much longer to complete.
The new bridge will be 2,265 ft. (690 m) long and approximately 96 ft. (29 m) wide. Motorists will find two 12-ft. (3.6 m) lanes in each direction with wide shoulders. The bridge includes a planned 13-ft. (4 m) wide bicycle and pedestrian path on the north side of the bridge. Mariners will find a wider passage under the bridge’s center span and the new bridge will maintain the minimum vertical clearance over the river of 65 ft. (20 m). The project also calls for a parking area and a boat ramp on the Tiverton side of the bridge.
The bridge includes a number of decorative and architectural features. These include LED-based lighting to illuminate the bridge’s piers in the river and light posts in the center median. RIDOT also included back-lighted bronze plaques on the approaches of the bridge, which will depict the town seals of Portsmouth and Tiverton, as well as an anchor from the Rhode Island State Seal.
RIDOT was able to retain these design features even after a redesign in 2007 which trimmed about $34 million from the project cost. A majority of the savings were achieved by lowering the profile of the bridge and constructing a large embankment for the eastern approach. This reduces approximately 470 ft. (143 m) of elevated roadway over land.
Further savings were realized by conducting a test program for the bridge’s foundation, which allowed for more specific plans to prospective bidders and potentially saving unforeseen costs during construction. RIDOT also developed two design alternatives — one with steel beams, another with concrete beams — and advertised for bids for both options. This allowed RIDOT to take advantage of market fluctuations for construction materials. Cardi Corporation’s bid of $163.7 million for the steel option was $25.7 million less than the lowest bid received for a bridge with concrete beams.
The old Sakonnet River Bridge will be demolished under a separate contract at the conclusion of the project.