RIDOT Recommends Hybrid Plan for Bridge Removal

Wed January 28, 2004 - Northeast Edition

PROVIDENCE, RI (AP) The state Department of Transportation is recommending that the concrete components of the old Jamestown Bridge be used to create artificial reefs, and bridge’s steel be salvaged and recycled.

The recommendation was outlined in a report issued Jan. 16 by the state Department of Transportation and the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration.

The roughly 1.5-mi. (2.4 km) bridge linking North Kingstown to Jamestown was opened in 1940 and declared structurally and functionally obsolete by the state in 1970. The state had to promise the Coast Guard it would remove the bridge in order to get approval for the new Jamestown-Verrazzano Bridge, which runs parallel to the old one.

The old bridge closed in 1992 when the new four-lane bridge opened, but demolition was delayed because of limited funding. The state is still legally required to remove the old bridge, which contains 6,000 tons (5,400 t) of steel and 38,000 cu. yds. (29,053 cu m) of concrete.

The report issued Jan. 16 examined three proposals for the bridge’s removal. One plan, with an estimated cost between $20 million and $24 million, involved disposal of the concrete in the State Central Landfill in Johnston and the recycling of the steel.

A second plan called for using the steel and concrete to create artificial reefs off the Rhode Island coast.

The third plan, and the one being recommended, is a mix of the two. The concrete material would be transformed into artificial reefs at two offshore sites — one near Block Island and one further east — while the steel would be salvaged and recycled. Both the second and third plans were estimated to cost between $16 million and $20 million.

The recommendation was reached after public comment on a draft proposal that was released last year, said Peter Healey, project manager with the state Department of Transportation.

“We found that there was quite a bit of comment related to the proposed use of the steel [in the reef],” Healey said. “We made the determination that it wouldn’t compromise the viability of the reefs to use just concrete.”

According to the report, the recommended option is the most “environmentally prudent.”

“Based on the successes of past artificial reef initiatives in other states, the placement of suitable structure at selected barren ocean bottom areas represents a unique opportunity to enhance marine habitat,” the report states. The artificial reefs also would “offer potential long-term recreational and economic benefits through the creation of new fishing and sport diving opportunities.”

The DOT has set aside $14.5 million in state and federal funds for the project, the department said.

The Rhode Island Chapter of the Sierra Club had proposed transforming the bridge into a pedestrian and bike path, and on Jan. 16, the group urged Gov. Don Carcieri to call for a study to determine if the bridge is safe for use by non-motorized vehicles.

“Saving the old Jamestown Bridge would allow all Rhode Islanders the opportunity to enjoy the priceless views of Narragansett Bay that are currently only enjoyed by a select few,” Barry Schiller, transportation chair of the Sierra Club’s state chapter, said in a statement.

The public is invited to submit comments on the report through Feb. 17. After that, the state and federal agencies will issue a final decision about the bridge’s removal.

“At this point, I don’t anticipate much objection,” Healey said.

The bulk of the demolition likely would take place in 2005, Healey said.