There’s nothing that unifies Pawtuxet Village more than the bridge.
It’s there to bring Warwick and Cranston together in all kinds of situations – in the floods of 2010 when all other bridges over the river including Route 95 were closed; annually when the Gaspee Days parade crosses into Cranston and every day to connect people to work, their homes, schools, places of worship, friends and favorite places for coffee and dinner.
It’s no wonder then that when people learned “the bridge” is among scores of Rhode Island bridges slated for repairs that area residents and business owners wanted to learn more.
Rep. Joseph McNamara had planned for that. Tuesday night he arranged for three Department of Transportation officials to outline repairs for the bridge slated to start in the spring of 2022 and hopefully to be completed within six months. McNamara held the meeting at the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite Hall with seating for at least a couple of hundred. He didn’t fill all the seats; however, there was no lack of interest over the structure built in the 1880s and widened in the 1930s.
Villagers found they had three allies, including a disciple in Melanie Jewett Army, DOT assistant Chief of Planning.
“I live in the neighborhood,” she said, “and I’m not going to let anyone take it anywhere.” The audience broke into applause.
Later in the evening, she made her position all the more emphatic. She said after repairs the bridge will “stand and look as it does today. It’s not going anywhere and it’s going to stand for another one hundred to two hundred years.”
Jewett Army called the work to be done – the bridge has cracks and mortar is crumbling in places – a “preservation project.” That is to include work to the structure as well as new sidewalks and repaving.
McNamara stressed there is not a structural issue and there is no concern that traffic might be restricted or weight limits imposed.
Arthur Bovis, RIDOT Deputy Director of Government Affairs, said the project is in the “conceptual” phase and the next step would be for the department to solicit bids for a design consultant. Comments and concerns raised at Tuesday’s meeting would get passed on to the consultant when selected. That would not be the end of community input, assured Nicole Pope, RIDOT director of Government Affairs and Legislation. She said RIDOT is being “proactive” involving the community in the process. Additional meetings will be held as the plans come together.
Among concerns is the replacement of the wrought iron fencing on the Cranston side of the bridge that was taken out by a drunk driver in a stolen car. Aluminum fencing replaces it, but to restore the bridge people want the wrought iron. There were no promises about the fencing.
Pegee Malcolm, secretary of the Warwick Historical Society, is concerned that the work be done well and in keeping with the historic nature of the structure. “If you need to take time, take time, but do it right,” she said.
Likewise, Robert Hutchinson urged that the work take into consideration the details. He called the bridge a village “charm.”
Lori O’Rourke, of O’Rourke’s, pointed out that the village has become a destination and it would be important that planners take into consideration the timing of work so to minimize the impact on businesses. Bovis assured there would be a traffic plan and that the RIDOT would meet with businesses.
“This can be very significant for small business,” said McNamara, “it’s important that we get it right.”
Parking and foot traffic were also mentioned, but it was Gaspee Days that headlined concerns. With the construction season starting in April, Gaspee Days president Ryan Giviens questioned what impact it would have on the celebration that extends through May into mid-June. Giviens observed that 2022 would be the 250th anniversary of the burning of the British schooner Gaspee.
Bovis vowed to account for the celebration. If work were to be done during that period, he said he thought it would be on those portions of the bridge not impeding traffic.
Attendees were urged to submit their email addresses and contact information so that the department could keep them informed.
“You’re all involved,” said Bovis, noting that at this point the planning has yet to begin and they will be a part of the process from the beginning.