It was called the “Walk the Iway Bridge” event. On a perfect October Saturday the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) put the new Providence River Bridge, and several parts of the new sections of Route 195 on either end, on display for the local taxpayers who helped fund the estimated $610 million it will cost by the time it is complete. It will probably be the first and last time the public will be able to do this.
An estimated 10,000 Rhode Islanders took advantage of the opportunity and took a long stroll over the bridge to take photographs, admire the view and share Rhode Island history in the making with their kids.
R.I.’s Most Expensive Project
This first section of the most expensive highway project in Rhode Island’s history, the section that carries northbound traffic on Route 95 to Route 195 eastbound, has been off-limits during construction. The steel bridge will now carry interstate traffic day and night, which will free up drivers who are now being squeezed onto the adjacent Washington Bridge, where traffic is currently reduced to a standstill at various times of the day.
The entire 195 relocation project involves moving a section of Route 195 and its intersection with Route 95 southward. In several years, it will produce a new section of Route 195 joining the existing Route 195 near the Washington Bridge.
RIDOT spokeswoman Dana Alexander Nolfe commented that the large crowd that visited the bridge was just what the agency had wanted, with about 8,000 visitors riding buses and the other 2,000 walking. The site stayed open from 9 a.m. until noon, but many stayed longer.
“The Department felt it was important to organize this event to let the public see the Iway,” RIDOT Director Jerome F. Williams said. “This is a significant change to our Interstate highway and this will be the only chance anyone will have to walk on this roadway before it opens.”
“It was a wonderful thing to do,” said Virginia Tully, an East Side resident. “I’ve brought my children and they’ve brought their children, my grandchildren. We may never get another chance to walk this and we wanted to make sure we did.”
“It’s like a big block party,” Providence resident Guiseppe Rinault added. “Look at the people here. All we need is a band.”
Within the large crowd were William D. Warner, the project architect, and engineer Patricia D. Steere, head of bridge design for the Maguire Group, who collaborated to play key roles in making the highway and bridge look as they do.
Arch Keeps Photographers Riveted
The design that planners settled on was a network arch, which is distinguished by the diagonal pattern of the cables that hang from the arch and support the bridge deck and the beams under it. The result is a pattern of diagonal intersections, which changes when viewed from different angles.
The pattern proved a magnet for photographers during the 10,000-person crossing. With traffic about to use the Iway for the first time, motorists gained a greater understanding of how the new highway interchange will work.
The idea of relocating this stretch of I-195 came from a review of choices that began in the 1980s. RIDOT considered many plans to deal with the aging section of I-195 in Providence, which was built in the 1950s.
Along with having to complete numerous repairs on one of the busiest stretches of highway in Rhode Island, traffic volumes had increased tremendously over the years. According to RIDOT, the highway originally designed for 75,000 vehicles a day now carries twice that many.
By all indications, the RIDOT open house at the bridge was a huge success, attracting generations of families. Most of the visitors seemed to like what they saw, and RIDOT got millions of dollars worth of publicity.
At the completion of the walk, visitors were given a copy of a commemorative program about the Iway, which details all the work to date.
“This opening marks a major milestone for the largest construction project in the state’s history,” Williams said. RIDOT added in a news release that the Iway also is designed to improve safety on Rt. 195. And it will open up “significant real estate in Providence for future development and new parks.”
Weather Delayed Highway Opening
A symbolic ribbon-cutting ceremony with Governor Don Carcieri was held on Oct. 26, but RIDOT did not open the section of the Iway at that time due to forecasted rain. To complete this project and open it to traffic, RIDOT required a minimum of 12 hours of dry overnight weekend weather in order to finish the top layer of the asphalt and signage.
Safety is RIDOT’s No. 1 priority. To get the Iway ready for motorists, final striping, barrier placement and signs had to be installed on the existing Interstate.
Striping, the most lengthy and weather sensitive activity, required the grinding away of the current road markings and the application of new ones in their new shifted locations on I-195 East. While this took place, I-195 East from Wickenden Street to Gano Street was reduced to one lane.
Additionally, 1,500 feet of temporary Jersey barrier was installed and final directional signs were uncovered and/or erected.
The weather eventually cooperated and all of RIDOT’s final work was completed. On Nov. 4, the Iway was finally opened to motorists.
“It’s the first segment of a much safer highway,” said RIDOT’s Williams, after driving the 1.5-mi. section for the first time. “You’ve got fewer sharp turns, fewer exits and entrances so close to one another.”
With the first segment of the project complete, the next steps can move forward. Construction is scheduled to be complete in 2009.
Additional information on the development of the project and the new ramps and exits can be had at any time online by viewing RIDOT’s new video podcasts of the project. This series of mini documentaries, including versions in Spanish, are available on RIDOT’s website at www.dot.state.ri.us and popular podcast viewing sites on the Web such as YouTube (www.youtube.com) and iTunes (www.apple.com/itunes). CEG