2010-10-28 / News

The last of the old Jamestown Bridge will finally fall this winter

By Sam Bari

The state Department of Transportation announced on Oct. 12, the decision to dismantle the last remaining section of the old Jamestown Bridge.

RIDOT awarded the contract to demolish the 1,600-feet protruding from the North Kingstown shoreline to Reagan Construction Corp., of Middletown. The company agreed to complete the project for $961,000. Work will begin in November.

The two-lane structure connected Jamestown to the U.S. mainland for 52 years. The new four-lane Jamestown-Verrazzano Bridge replaced the aging overpass in 1992.

The demolition of the main span in 2006 made national news when a spectacular display of explosives dropped the center of the 6,982-foot-long roadway into Narragansett Bay. Later, controlled explosive events brought down three sections of the bridge over a fourmonth period.

According to RIDOT spokesman, Charles St. Martin III, state law mandated that the last 1,600- foot section on the Kingstown side of the West Passage become a public fishing pier. However, costs to restore the remaining section to safe standards were prohibitive, and the decision was made to build a new pier for less money.

In 2008, the law was revised and DOT was ordered to finish dismantling the last section of the old bridge that had continued to deteriorate.

The DOT estimated that the project will take three months to complete. They will begin preparations by installing buoys around a 200-foot perimeter to prohibit boating in the demolition area.

Explosives will not be used to dismantle the remainder of the bridge. DOT said that cranes mounted on barges will disassemble each section, one at a time.

Unlike during the dropping of the main span, traffic will not be affected. Whenever there was an explosive event in the 2006 project, homes on either side of the bridge within 1,000 feet were evacuated and traffic was stopped in both directions until an all-clear horn was sounded.

Cashman Equipment Company of Boston, an experienced bridge demolition company, was the general contractor responsible for the demolition and disposal of the main span in 2006.

John McNulty, a Newport native who was the project superintendent for the 2006 bridge demolition, and many others who remember the old bridge felt that the 22-foot-wide roadway was less than adequate for the traffic that crossed it, with one narrow lane for travel in each direction. The center cantilever span was made of steelgrate deck to reduce wind stress. Many found the view of the bay 135 feet below frightening when seen through the grating as they sped across the narrow span, especially in bad weather.

The bridge became known as the “Hail Mary” bridge because of its steep slope from the causeway approaches to the main span and the slippery grating at mid-span.

It wasn’t long after its completion that the bridge was unable to handle the growing number of large trucks and buses, and the Jamestown Bridge Commission imposed a rule of one large truck or bus on the bridge at a time. As a result, high school students from Jamestown had a long commute to North Kingstown because there was no high school on Conanicut Island.

Nevertheless, the much needed bridge put 200 men to work for a year-and-a-half in 1939 when jobs were scarce. The project was successfully completed without a fatality.

The bridge opened to traffic on July 27, 1940 at a cost of $3 million, which was financed by a 90- cent toll collected in Kingstown (later reduced to 35 cents and later 25 cents). It was only two months behind schedule and more than $100,000 under budget.

The Jamestown span held the title as the longest bridge in New England until the 11,906-footlong Mystic River (Tobin) Bridge opened in Boston in 1950. The toll was collected on the old Jamestown Bridge until the nearby Newport (Pell) Bridge opened in 1969.

Despite its shortcomings, the bridge was a welcome convenience when compared to the ferry that often didn’t run during inclement weather.

By February 2011, the old Jamestown Bridge will be remembered in history books.

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